At a fête held last evening at Marcus Garvey Park in East Harlem, the Architectural League of New York bestowed artist and landscape architect Walter Hood with its most prestigious honor, the President’s Medal. Founder and creative director of the Oakland, California-based social art and design practice Hood Design Studio, the heavily decorated Hood is also professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design at the University of California, Berkeley; a 2019 MacArthur Fellow, and a 1997 Fellow in Landscape Architecture at the American Academy in Rome. Most recently, Hood most was one of 11 featured contributors to the landmark group show at the Museum of Modern Art, Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.
Free and open to the public, the League’s festivities at Marcus Garvey Park not only served as a celebration of Hood’s transformative work but an event that marked a very long-awaited return to public life for much of the architecture and design community—that is, a proper in-person party-slash-award ceremony complete with a call to assembly, performed by saxophonist Jason Marshall, and a procession through the park led by New York City-based dance and drum collective Mfouambila Kongo Dance Company.
As noted by the League, Hood, as an artist and designer dedicated to “creating beauty in everyday environments, revealing hidden histories, renewing connections, guiding the way to co-existence in all our multiplicity and difference,” was a “fitting person to honor at the moment of our re-engagement of public life.”
Past recipients of the President’s Medal include Kenneth Frampton, Ada Louise Huxtable, Richard Serra, Renzo Piano, Michael Bloomberg, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, and 2020 recipient, Rural Studio director Andrew Freear.
Said Paul Lewis, an architect, educator, and president of the Architectural League of New York, in his citation:
“As artist and designer, as deeply engaged observer, listener, educator, and theorist, Walter Hood has transformed understanding of how to see and create meaning in landscapes and public spaces. He shows and teaches how to unearth suppressed histories and make connections visible, to see value in the unremarkable and create beauty in the mundane. Particulars, specifics, and idiosyncrasies guide his creative process. Walter and his studio shape bold, inventive places, responding to imperatives of memory, community, and ecology, combining poetry and science, embracing difference.
Through his research, writing, and design, Walter has compelled attention to the centrality of Black landscapes in our collective culture. He has radically reshaped the agency of and expectations for landscape architecture. With deep admiration, The Architectural League awards its President’s Medal to the contemporary prophet of landscape and public space Walter Hood.”
In addition to the medal presentation remarks given by Lewis, Mabel O. Wilson, professor of architecture and director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University (who served as co-curator of Reconstructions); Mario Gooden, founding principal of Huff + Gooden Architects and professor of practice at Columbia GSAPP, and Sara Zewde, founding principal of landscape architecture, urban design, and public art practice Studio Zewde, gave additional remarks. Author Tonya M. Foster also read a poem written in Hood’s honor while youth performance group The Marching Cobras closed out the ceremony. A reception followed.
The festivities also featured installation and production design from Harlem-based architecture and design studio BRANDT : HAFERD in collaboration with Coleman Downing and Levi Shaw-Faber.
Jerome Haferd, cofounder of BRANDT : HAFERD, explained the intent of the textile-based design to AN:
“We wanted to celebrate the interdisciplinary and interdependent qualities that define Black landscapes and Walter’s approach to practice. So, the ‘architecture’ in this case is part-performance, part-ritual, and part-enclosure; which the large quilted fragments transform to facilitate three different phases of the event / celebration / ritual. Taking inspiration from projects such as Water Table, and making connections to Hood’s own interest in the layering of these histories and public space, the design consists of a series of tables and fabric ‘banners,’ which unfold in three parts: laid out as a horizontal groundwork to begin the procession, held vertically to create the ‘bandshell’ that frames the performances, and finally lifted above the tables to create the ‘bush arbor’ canopy above the giant collective meal.
Drawing upon histories of quilt-making and fabric and the multidimensional ways that they are both byproducts of community and help to hold and shape gatherings. The use of fabric requires a degree of improvisation and freedom with the material, which helped to set a tone of generosity and flow with the entire design process, learning when to calibrate and when to celebrate the odds, ends, droops, and folds.”