J. Meejin Yoon, an architect, designer, and educator who has served as Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP) at Cornell University since January 2019, has been bestowed with the World Cultural Council (WCC)’s 2022 Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts. The biannual international honor is one of three conferred by the Mexico City–headquartered WCC, alongside prizes in education and science. Past recipients of the Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts include Portuguese film producer Paulo Branco (2019), Canadian percussionist and professor Russell Hartenberger (2017), and Uruguayan double bass player Milton Masciadri (2015). The last—and only previous—architect to be named a World Award of Arts laureate was Enrique Norten, founding principal of Mexico City–based TEN Arquitectos, in 2005.
Per a press announcement, Yoon, who is cofounding partner of Boston-based architectural practice Höweler + Yoon along life and businesses partner Eric Höweler, was recognized by the WCC jury panel as being an “extraordinary leader in design practice, research, and education, particularly for her commitment to social justice and equity, environmental sustainability, and technological innovation deployed for the betterment of society.”
“It is a true honor to join a long line of artists, architects, writers, musicians, and others who share a belief in the power of creativity and imagination, and the potential for art in all its forms to inspire and build a better world now and well into the future,” said Yoon in a statement.
While the jury recognized “Yoon’s leadership roles in higher education, achievements in academia, and for her unique contribution to the architecture discipline,” it also took particular note of her “innovative and thoughtful” design for public memorials, installations, and structures, which it said are “informed by a profound sense of historical and cultural context as well as the need to inspire and bring communities together by providing places of remembrance and reflection that inspire hope.”
As detailed by Cornell AP in its own announcement of Yoon’s win, such commissions include the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia, the Collier Memorial on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where Yoon previously chaired the architecture department), Shadow Play in downtown Phoenix, and the more recently completed Moongate Bridge (2022), a pedestrian span in Shanghai. Current Höweler + Yoon projects include the MIT Museum, the Karsh Institute of Democracy at the University of Virginia, and the Living Village at the Yale Divinity School.
In 2021, Yoon was inducted into to the American Academy of Arts and Letters alongside six other architects and landscape architects including Marlon Blackwell, James Corner, Kathryn Gustafson, Walter Hood, Nader Tehrani, and Balkrishna Doshi as a foreign honorary member.
Yoon’s nomination for the Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts was spearheaded by Cornell University Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff and bolstered by letters of support from peers at MIT and Columbia University.
“Dean Yoon is deeply committed to the relationship between design education, design research and design practice and is an innovator in cross-disciplinary design education,” Kotlikoff said. “She has dedicated herself to improving education in architecture and design, inspiring rising generations to greater achievement and setting an example of highly successful programs.”
An awards ceremony will be held at Portugal’s University of Coimbra on November 30, where Yoon will be joined by Victoria M. Kaspi and Claudia Mitchell, winners of the WCC’s Albert Einstein World Award of Science and José Vasconcelos World Award of Education, respectively. Both Kaspi and Mitchell are based at McGill University in Montreal. The November 30 awards ceremony marks the first time that all three WCC prizes will be presented at the same event. A special lecture series at the University of Coimbra will be held the day before.
Yoon is the 12th recipient of the Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts, which is conferred to a “renowned artist, sculptor, writer, poet, cinematographer, photographer, architect, musician or other performing, creative or visionary artist, whose work constitutes a significant contribution to the artistic legacy of the world,” according to the WCC. The first arts laureate, the Acropolis Preservation Group, won the prize in 1989.