The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. announced today that Mabel O. Wilson, the Nancy and George E. Rupp Professor of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University, has won the 2021 Vincent Scully Prize.
Wilson is the 23rd recipient of the prestigious award, which was established in 1999 to recognize excellence in practice, scholarship, or criticism in architecture, historic preservation, and urban design. Upon hearing the news, Wilson stated that she is “deeply humbled and honored that my contributions to the field of architecture have been recognized by this year’s jury for the National Building Museum’s Vincent Scully Prize. The arrival of a global pandemic, rampant houselessness, climate catastrophe, and a profound racial reckoning has made more urgent not only how we build more ethically but also for whom do we build more equitably in a twenty-first century world.”
Wilson is a multidisciplinary professor at Columbia where she can be found in the departments of Architecture and African American and African Diaspora Studies, as well as in the positions of director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies and co-director of Global Africa Lab. In all of these roles, she has written and taught on the intersections between the built environment and Black culture and history. Her most famous achievement in this regard is arguably Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History From the Enlightenment to Today (2020), a collection of historical essays that she co-edited with Irene Cheng and Charles Davis. Following the success of that book, Wilson was invited to be a co-curator of the Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Outside of academia, Wilson established a private practice, Studio &, which recently completed the Memorial to Enslaved African American Laborers (2020) at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Designed in collaboration with Höweler + Yoon Architecture, Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, Frank Dukes, and Eto Otitigbe, the memorial was named Project of the Year by the Architect’s Newspaper in the 2020 AN Best of Design Awards, where it was said to address “America’s fraught history of race” through the creation of “a space for mournful contemplation by making an earthly incision […]”
“With her transdisciplinary approach to identifying, understanding, and revealing how racism and architecture have combined to impact generations of Black Americans, Mabel Wilson has long been a crucial voice and a vital force — not just in the design world, but across U.S. culture,” said Aileen Fuchs, president and executive director of the National Building Museum. “She exemplifies the values of the Scully Prize in everything she does, and we are pleased to recognize her achievements and impact.”
Wilson will be presented the award at an in-person event on October 19, where she will be in conversation with Steven Nelson, Dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, about her career and research focus going forward.