Honors and Awards Luncheon 2015: Design for All

The AIA New York Chapter welcomed nearly 800 guests to Cipriani Wall Street’s grand Beaux Arts Hall to celebrate design excellence in New York City. The AIANY Honors and Awards Luncheon raised $366,450 to support the Chapter and the Center for Architecture, enabling both to provide programs and exhibitions on issues of substance to New Yorkers in the design community and beyond.

In his introduction, master of ceremony AIANY 2015 President Tomas Rossant, AIA, discussed the changing face of the architecture profession, noting that “the age of the activist architect is upon us again.” He urged the audience to be like Don Draper and criticize AIA National’s controversial “I look up” campaign, but to nonetheless cheer and support the organization’s public outreach transformation. He also noted how the AIANY has paralleled AIA National’s repositioning at a local level with the reorganization of the Center for Architecture as a 501(c)3 committed to demonstrating that design matters to a general public.

The spirit of change was also evident in this year’s AIANY Design Awards. In an effort to promote a more holistic perception of architecture, the awards program’s traditional three-juror panels dedicated to specific categories were replaced with a single super jury that viewed all 383 submissions. Design Awards committee member Chris Cooper, AIA, presented the 35 awards in four categories: Architecture, Interiors, Projects, and Urban Design, and this year’s Best in Competition winner, Songpa Micro Housing by SsD.

With the AIANY’s Center for Architecture increasing commitment to public outreach, it seemed particularly timely to honor New York magazine critic Justin Davidson with the Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award, which recognizes journalists who have elevated the standards of architecture. Since joining New York magazine in 2007, Davidson has portrayed complex ideas about civic, urban, and design issues to a general public. In his acceptance speech, he discussed the intense and asymmetric relationship between journalists and the people they cover.

Award of Merit recipient Mary Miss has also brought built environment issues to the forefront through art installations that focus on social, cultural, and environmental sustainability. She has reshaped the boundaries between sculpture, architecture, landscape design, and installation art, introducing artists and designers to scientists and economists. “The way that artists communicate,” said Miss, “is an essential element of presenting these issues to the public at large.”

The final award was the AIANY Medal of Honor. Conferred by the Chapter since 1914, the medal recognizes an architect or firm for distinguished work and high professional standing. This year’s recipient was Grimshaw Architects. Accepting the award on the firm’s behalf was partner Andrew Whalley, AIA, RIBA, who traced the firm’s history in New York in relation to its commitment to architecture and design in the service of its users. Grimshaw has been involved in projects, both small and large, including a 20-year effort by the city to refresh its street furniture. According to Whalley, “I knew we’d arrived when Mayor Bloomberg drew particular attention to the public toilets, saying ‘New Yorkers have had their legs crossed for over 20 years.’”

Returning to the idea of change and progress at the end of the program, Rossant welcomed AIANY and the Center for Architecture’s interim executive director David Burney, FAIA, noting how New York City’s architecture community has long admired Burney for his commitment to the profession and design excellence, two things that the Luncheon was celebrating. Rossant also spoke with excitement about the search for the new executive director, welcoming “new perspectives and new ideas to help us grow even more – serving more professionals, reaching more of the general public, influencing more of the dialogue between allied professionals, public officials, and the people who live and work and move through the built environment.”