Nader Tehrani and Rural Studio among winners of Cooper Hewitt’s 2022 National Design Awards

A Round of Applause, Please

Nader Tehrani and Rural Studio among winners of Cooper Hewitt’s 2022 National Design Awards

2022 National Design Award winner Rural Studio’s extension at the Greensboro Boys & Girls Club in Hale County, Alabama. (Timothy Hursley)

New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced the 2022 recipients of its prestigious annual National Design Awards program. Like in years past, there are likely a few familiar names to AN readers among this year’s nine jury-selected award categories, including multiple recent recipients of the Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices Award.

They are:

“This year’s National Design Award winners reflect the central role that design can play in addressing some of the most urgent needs of our time,” said Cooper Hewitt director Maria Nicanor in a statement. “Attuned to increasing social and planetary challenges, all awardees, regardless of their category, have a regenerative approach to design work that takes into account our shared future. I’m grateful to our thoughtful jury this year for their selection. Their deliberations revealed that behind each winner is a philosophy of work that expertly weaves together technological innovation while elevating traditional craft, or that prioritizes preservation and reparation processes, ultimately designing for citizens, and not consumers—a reason for hope in today’s complex world if there ever was one.”

The 2022 National Design Awards jury was comprised of chair Marlon Blackwell, principal of Marlon Blackwell Architects, along with Cheryl Barton, founding principal, STUDIO/CB; Travis Fitch, principal, Fitchwork; Rick Griffith, partner and graphic designer, MATTER; Christina Kim, designer, dosaSusana Rodríguez de Tembleque, vice president of design, IBM Research, IBM; and Raja Schaar, program director and associate professor of product design, Drexel University.

photo of a public space project in a desert landscape
Kounkuey Design Initiative’s Eastern Coachella Valley Initiative, an ongoing public space project in California. (Courtesy Kounkuey Design Initiative)

Rural Studio and Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), the winners in the Architecture/Interior Design and Landscape Architecture categories, respectively, are both committed to making impactful change in historically overlooked and underserved communities, particularly those of color.

Rural Studio, established in 1993 by the late Samuel Mockbee and D.K Ruth and operating as an off-campus design-build program of Auburn University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, exclusively works in and around Hale County in the “persistently impoverished” Black Belt region of west-central Alabama. (The program itself is based in the small town of Newbern.) Currently led by Andrew Freear, recipient of the Architectural League’s President’s Medal in 2020, Rural Studio has educated 1,200 Auburn students-slash-citizen architects (including AN alumna Kate Mazade) who have participated in more than 200 projects in the Black Belt, ranging from affordable single-family homes (many as part of the $20K House research project), churches and community centers, libraries and animal shelters, and major park revamps. “Our design-build program challenges students to consider not what can be built but rather what should be built,” the Rural Studio website explains.

a home illuminated at night
The Safe House Black History Museum, a 2020 project of Rural Studio. (Timothy Hursley)

While the work of Rural Studio is rooted firmly in a single and very specific place, the work of KDI, a community development and design nonprofit that maintains offices in Los Angeles, California’s Coachella Valley, Stockholm, and Nairobi, Kenya, is less restrained by geographic boundaries. Led by executive director and cofounder Chelina Odbert, the 16-year-old KDI works in places “where socioeconomic inequity is extreme, environmental risks are high and public investment is historically low,” Cooper Hewitt explained in its announcement. “To address these challenges, the firm designs landscapes of inclusion, including parks, streetscapes and climate-resilient infrastructure. It also advocates for more equitable public policies, undertakes original research to account for injustices in the built environment and creates long-term plans, giving people more equitable access to a thriving public realm, regardless of race, income, gender, sexual orientation or housing status.”

As Odbert told AN in 2021 in an Emerging Voices profile, KDI’s 60-person team is composed of  “landscape architects, architects, planners, engineers, and a research and community organizing team. Because of that interdisciplinary makeup, we’re able to cross the spectrum from design to policy and even advocacy and activism,” she said.

headshot of architect nader tehrani
Nader Tehrani, founding principal of NADAAA and recipient of a 2022 National Design Award in the Design Visionary category.  (Carmen Maldonado)
headshot of felecia davis
Felecia Davis, designer, educator, and recipient of a 2022 National Design Award in the Digital Design category. (Courtesy Felecia Davis

Head on over to the National Design Awards homepage to read more about the work of Rural Studio and ODI along with the rest of the 2022 honorees, including Nader Tehrani, founding principal of Boston-based architecture and design firm NADAAA and former dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at Cooper Union, and Felecia Davis, a designer and researcher based at the School of Architecture at Pennsylvania State University who is also a founding member of the Black Reconstructive Collective and a 2022 recipient of the Architectural League’s Emerging Voices Award. Davis is also a jury member for AN’s 2022 Best of Design Awards, the winners of which will be announced this coming December

In celebration of the National Design Awards’ 2022 cycle, which marks the 23rd edition of the program, Cooper Hewitt is kicking off its annual National Design Week festivities on October 17 with a slate of special programming and free admission to the museum, which will resume its pre-pandemic, seven-days-per-week operating schedule as part of the larger festivities.