On Monday of this week, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced Spanish architect Rafael Moneo as the recipient of its 2003 Royal Gold Medal. The Royal Gold Medal, approved personally by the Queen of England, is conferred annually on an individual or group of people whose influence on architecture has had a truly international effect.
The RIBA has passed up one opportunity to give their Gold Medal in the award’s 150+ year history. The AIA has passed up 40 opportunities in less than 100 years.
RIBA’s announcement is one of many major award announcements that will come in the wake of the AIA’s inability to reach a required three-quarters majority vote on one of two finalists for its highest award, the Gold Medal. The AIA’s nomination process and final decision have earned extensive criticism throughout the architectural press, including an article in the January issue of its own magazine, Architectural Record. In his monthly editorial, Robert Ivy warns that other groups are “chipping away” at the prestige of the AIA Gold Medal. He writes, “The intervening years have witnessed a proliferation of awards programs, notably the Pritzker Prize, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Design Award, Japan’s Praemium Imperiale, and The Aga Khan Award for Architects. All confer honor; all command media attention, strongly competing for the lime-light with the Gold Medal.”
Today’s issue of ArchVoices unites three commentaries on the AIA’s decision and its golden opportunity to reform the Gold Medal process. The first commentary provides an overview of the existing nomination and voting process, contributed by Raymond Dehn, a two-term AIA Board member. The second is authored by Cameron Sinclair, executive director of Architecture for Humanity. And the third was authored by James Cramer, editor and publisher of DesignIntelligence for the December 2002 issue of DI. All three offer sound, though sometimes conflicting criticism, as well as specific and reasonable options for reform.
In the end, our hope is to show that the AIA has numerous models to consider in rethinking the Gold Medal process, and that as a member of the architecture profession your individual views count. Let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
“Process vs. Product”
By Raymond Dehn, Former AIAS and Associate Representative to the AIA Board of Directors
The process from which the AIA Board selects/or not, really isn’t that complicated. During its fall meeting, the Board hears presentations about at most five nominees. The Board then votes and the three nominees with the most votes move forward to the December Board meeting, as finalists. At the December Board meeting all three finalists are presented. Once again, each Board member votes for who they believe is most deserving of the Gold Medal. After these votes are tallied the finalist who has garnered the least number of votes is removed, leaving two. Another vote is taken with the top vote getter being brought forth for a final vote. This person must receive a three-quarters affirmative vote for the AIA to bestow the Gold Medal.
A few years back, the AIA Gold Medal process underwent some minor revisions when the AIA Board created a Gold Medal Advisory Jury, responsible for presenting the Board with a list of no more than five nominees for the Gold Medal. The hope was that the AIA Board would concur with the Gold Medal Advisory Jury, consider all nominees deserving of the Gold Medal, and award the Gold Medal every year.
Both times that I sat on the Board, we did award a Gold Medal, and although the recipients may not have been my first choices, they were each deserving in their own right.
As a two-time AIA Board member it has always been my understanding that the list of Gold Medal nominees and finalists were confidential and not meant to be publicly disclosed, even after a Gold Medalist had been selected. These names are intended to be –and I think should be–considered confidential, out of respect for the individuals nominated who are not selected. After all, would anyone want to be known as the person who received the Gold Medal after his (or her) sixth nomination? Accordingly, I believe everyone involved should respect the confidentiality of the individuals nominated. However, public debate and openness about the process generally is important.
By Cameron Sinclair, executive director, Architecture for Humanity
The inability of the AIA to decide on a Gold Medalist is an embarrassment, not only to the organization, but also to the profession as a whole.
During a recent conversation with a number of AIA members, the topic of the Gold Medal came up. One of the people at the table, who happened to be involved with the AIA on the national level, began to justify the reasoning behind the decision not to award a medal in 2003. The explanation seemed to be that there was not one architect that was deemed to have made a lasting contribution to the profession in America. I naturally thought of the late Sam ‘Sambo’ Mockbee and was bemused at why, if the AIA could not find one living architect to honor, they couldn’t at least pay tribute to Mockbee’s truly unique work. In doing so they would not only be recognizing the Rural Studio but also hundreds of community-based architects and critical practices, which rarely get the recognition they so rightly deserve.
If you strip away the ego, the archi-lingo, and the philosophies of design, the sole purpose of architecture is to provide shelter. Our profession embodies far more than creating inspiring spaces, it is about innovating and striving to achieve an ideal set out by the designer. Mockbee not only took risks but he led the charge in making sure they were realized. He may not have designed signature public buildings, but by pushing the boundaries of architecture, he influenced a new generation of architects who believe that innovative and well-designed spaces should be a natural right for all.
Based on Bradford McKee’s article, “Mockbee Passed Over for AIA Gold,” in the January 2003 issue of Architecture magazine, it is apparent there are fundamental flaws in the process to recognize a great architect in this country. Not only am I appalled to find out that Mockbee was snubbed, but also the way in which it was done is equally worrying. Anyone who has been involved in awards programs knows that three-fourths affirmative vote is an unusually high requirement, especially in such a subjective field as design.
To many the AIA represents the face of the profession and the way they conduct themselves is just as influential to how the public views us. This seems to be a case of the AIA shooting itself in the foot. I believe they should take a page out of the current administrations’ playbook. Over the past two years, the Bush administration has made a number of u-turns on a variety of issues, coming out publicly and stating they made a mistake. Whether you agree with their policies or not–and even I am overwhelmed that I’m using this administration as an example–you have to respect any group that is willing to say they made a mistake and tries to correct it. So here is my proposal: at the AIA National Convention in May, the AIA awards the Gold Medal to the nominee who garnered the most votes.
And if the AIA is at all worried about giving a posthumous award, take a trip down to Alabama and I think you’ll still find the work of Sam Mockbee alive and well.
“Missed Opportunities: When Process Obscures the Goal”
By James P. Cramer, editor and publisher, Design Intelligence
Most processes of AIA governance and decision-making work quite well. For instance, the nation’s strongest professional design body is pretty good at naming the AIA Firm of the Year every year. And the AIA Honor Awards program is a well-run model for other organizations to emulate. However, we believe that the AIA Gold Medal program needs an overhaul.
The Gold Medal was established in 1907 as the highest award that the organization gives. The first award went to Sir Aston Webb of the United Kingdom and the last in 2002 to Tadao Ando of Japan.
This year, however, the AIA Board could not agree that anyone deserved the honor and after a frustrating process the Board left Washington without making a selection (the late Sam Mockbee came closest in their process). Looking back in history, it’s not all that unusual for AIA to skip a year or two. Since the award was founded it has not been given a total of 40 times. Contrast this with the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal, which has been granted every year since 1848 except once–due to the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. That first year it was given to Charles Robert Cockerell.
It is a significant missed opportunity for architects and the public not to provide this form of recognition annually. It’s also a big economic mistake. Because it is a prestigious world prize, newspapers and magazines here and abroad report the Gold Medal news. Magazines often devote covers to the work of the Gold Medal recipient. This is editorial space that cannot otherwise be bought. But that space still has economic value to be considered. (Keep in mind that a six-page color spread in a major architectural publication is worth more than $60,000 and every column inch in the New York Times is worth more than $787 if it could be bought.) One estimate would place the economic decision of not giving the AIA Gold Medal at around a $1,800,000 missed opportunity. Run the numbers.
The AIA Board is certainly the right body to decide who should receive the award. It should not be delegated to a separate jury or committee. But the process itself should produce consistent quality, pride, and even inspiration. The solution is just inches away.
Here is a modest plan to elevate the award: The AIA should name a Gold Medal advisor or secretary who will guide the process for the Institute. The nominating process should be open to any person, architect or not. All nominations should come to the Institute’s Secretary within a specified time frame, and then the advisor should facilitate a two-stage process. The first stage should bring all nominations to the Board where three finalists are selected and the second stage should determine the recipient at the Institutes next policy meeting. The advisor would present candidates without prejudice.
The nominees themselves should play no role in preparing their binder presentation and they should not be asked to self promote in any way. They need not even know initially that they have been nominated. Quite logically, a fair elimination process can be put in place resulting in an impressive decision for all.
We have analyzed the years where no award has been given since 1950. We were amazed to discover how many quality candidates there were in each of those years and just for the fun of it we have put forward a list on “what might have been” had the AIA awarded the Gold Medal annually.
“AIA Gold Medals: Winners and Missed Opportunities”
–A hypothetical look (1950-present) at what might have been by James P. Cramer, author of the previous commentary.
1950: Sir Patrick Abercrombie (U.K.)
1951: Bernard Ralph Maybeck (U.S.)
1952: Auguste Perret (France)
1953: William Adams Delano (U.S.)
1954: Gordon Bunshaft* (U.S)
1955: William Marinus Dudok (The Netherlands)
1956: Clarence S. Stein (U.S.)
1957: Ralph Walker (U.S.)
1957: Louis Skidmore (U.S.)
1958: John Wellborn Root II (U.S.)
1959: Walter Adolph Gropius (Germany)
1960: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (Germany)
1961: Le Corbusier (Charles Édouard Jeanneret) (Switzerland)
1962: Eero Saarinen/posthumous (U.S.)
1963: Alvar Aalto (Finland)
1964: Pier Luigi Nervi (Italy)
1965: Luis Barragon* (Mexico)
1966: Kenzo Tange (Japan)
1967: Wallace Kirkman Harrison (U.S.)
1968: Marcel Lajos Breuer (Germany)
1969: William Wilson Wurster (U.S.)
1970: Richard Buckminster Fuller (U.S.)
1971: Louis I. Kahn (U.S.)
1972: Pietro Belluschi (U.S.)
1973: Jorn Utzon* (Denmark)
1974: Ralph Rapson* (U.S.)
1975: Charles Correa* (India)
1976: Robert Venturi* (U.S)
1977: Richard Joseph Neutra/posthumous (Germany)
1978: Philip Cortelyou Johnson (U.S.)
1979: Ieoh Ming Pei (U.S.)
1980: Moshe Safdie* (Canada)
1981: Joseph Lluis Sert (Spain)
1982: Romaldo Giurgola (U.S.)
1983: Nathaniel Alexander Owings (U.S.)
1984: Sir Richard Rogers*(U.K.) and James I. Freed* (U.S) (tie)
1985: William Wayne Caudill/posthumous (U.S.)
1986: Arthur Charles Erickson (Canada)
1987: Gae Aulente* (Italy)
1988: Renzo Piano* (France) and Sverre Fehn* (Norway) (tie)
1989: Joseph Esherick (U.S.)
1990: E. Fay Jones (U.S.)
1991: Charles W. Moore (U.S.)
1992: Benjamin Thompson (U.S.)
1993: Thomas Jefferson/posthumous (U.S.)
1993: Kevin Roche (U.S.)
1994: Sir Norman Foster (U.K.)
1995: Cesar Pelli (U.S.)
1996: Samuel Mockbee* (U.S)
1997: Richard Meier (U.S.)
1998: Phyllis Lambert* (Canada) and Stephen Holl* (U.S.) (tie)
1999: Frank Gehry (U.S.)
2000: Ricardo Legorreta (Mexico)
2001: Michael Graves (U.S.)
2002: Tadao Ando (Japan)
2003: Santiago Calatrava* (Spain and Switzerland)
*What might have been; AIA Gold Medal Missed Opportunities.
For a complete list of AIA Gold Medal recipients (1907-2002) as well as detailed information about every AIA Honor Award, visit http://www.aia.org/institute/honors/2003_honors_and_awards_program.pdf
Is the 2003 AIA Gold Medal debate old news? Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.