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Groundbreakers 2017: Meet the jury

For the third annual Groundbreakers Awards, Curbed taps some of architecture’s most respected players

One of the goals we’ve set for our annual Groundbreakers competition is variegation: diversity in terms of location, types of built work, how the practice operates, and certainly not least, identity and representation. We want to award architects who show uniqueness of thought and execution—and our jury reflects that same approach.

This year, we have seven jurors who represent the top of their respective fields. The group includes four practicing architects—one who focuses on landscape design, one with a renowned teaching position, another who’s pioneered a prefab housing prototype, and one more who recently designed one of the nation’s highest-profile new museums.

Joining them are three tireless advocates for the built world: the president of the Ford Foundation, the director of an influential nonprofit in New York, and a longtime curator who just founded a design magazine. In this company, you’ll find two National Design Award winners, one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People, and an impressive panoply of awards and accolades.

I am so immensely pleased that Marlon Blackwell, Susan Chin, Andrea Cochran, Philip Freelon, Dung Ngo, Linda Taalman, and Darren Walker have agreed to gauge the merits of our incoming Groundbreakers winners for 2017. You can read more about their dynamic careers below, and nominate a potential winner for the competition here.


Courtesy of Marlon Blackwell

Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, is a practicing architect in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and serves as the E. Fay Jones Distinguished Professor in Architecture at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas. He served as Department Head from 2009 – 2015 and was named among the “30 Most Admired Educators” by DesignIntelligence in 2015. Work produced in his professional office, Marlon Blackwell Architects, has received national and international recognition with significant publication in books, architectural journals and magazines and numerous design awards, including the 2016 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture and a #1 Design Firm ranking by the Architect 50. Blackwell was selected as a United States Artists Ford Fellow in 2014 and received the 2012 Architecture Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was selected as an “Emerging Voice” in 1998 by the Architectural League of New York, and a monograph of his early work, “An Architecture of the Ozarks: The Works of Marlon Blackwell”, was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2005.

Read more:
Why modern architecture came back, and what it looks like now [Curbed]


Courtesy of Susan Chin

Susan Chin, FAIA, Hon. ASLA, is the executive director of Design Trust for Public Space, a nationally recognized incubator that transforms and evolves the city’s landscape with public agencies and community collaborators since 1995. She has overseen key projects, such as Five Borough Farm, Making Midtown, Under the Elevated and Laying the Groundwork. Prior to joining the Design Trust, Susan served as Assistant Commissioner for Capital Projects at NYC Department of Cultural Affairs for over 20 years, supporting more than $3 billion in new construction, revitalization and public art projects citywide. She served as 2013/2014 Vice President on the American Institute of Architects board, and received numerous awards, including AIA New York State’s 2013 James William Kideney Gold Medal and 2011 Del Gaudio Award, Loeb Fellowship at Harvard and Distinguished Alumna from Ohio State University.

Read more:
Underneath, overlooked: Susan Chin of the Design Trust for Public Space pushes to open new layers of cities [Landscape Architecture magazine, February 2017]


Courtesy of Andrea Chochran

Andrea Cochran, winner of the 2014 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in Landscape Architecture, believes that her field has the power to alter perception and ultimately initiate a deeper respect for the environment. The work of her San Francisco-based firm, Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, invites us to forge new relationships with our surroundings. By juxtaposing ordered architectural forms with the permeable, mutable materials of landscape, Cochran draws attention to specific moments in nature and highlights experiential changes over time. As a result of this sustained body of work, Cochran received the 2014 ASLA Design Medal (the second woman to win this award) and the 2015 Mercedes T. Bass Landscape Architecture Residency at the American Academy in Rome.

Read more:
Romancing the stone: Andrea Cochran’s bold landscape designs are natural wonders [Dwell, 2015]


Courtesy of Philip Freelon

Philip Freelon (FAIA, LEED AP BD+C) is the design director of Perkins + Will’s North Carolina office, based in Durham and Charlotte. As a member of the firm’s Board of Directors, he is also a key leader for the firm's cultural and civic practice. Freelon led the design team for the $500 million Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and is the design architect for the National Center for Civil Rights in Atlanta. His portfolio also includes the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, Emancipation Park in Houston, multiple library projects for the DC Public Library System and the Durham County Human Services Complex. He is an Obama appointee to the National Commission of Fine Arts, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) and a recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture. In 2017, Freelon was named one of Fast Company’s most creative people in business. Freelon, in partnership with Harvard Graduate School of Design and Perkins + Will, announced in 2016d a new design fellowship in his honor for incoming students of color.

Learn more:
For architect of National Museum of African American History and Culture, it's personal [The Curbed Appeal podcast]
In Their Own Words: Phil Freelon, Building a Legacy [Perkins + Will]


Courtesy of Dung Ngo

Dung Ngo is the publisher of August Editions, a New York-based publishing venture focused on contemporary visual culture, and the founder of recently-launched design and travel magazine August Journal—a periodical Ngo calls “the lovechild of Nest and National Geographic.” Ngo is the author of design tomes including Bent Ply: The Art of Plywood Furniture, Open House, and Tom Kundig: Houses. He also served as creative director at Rizzoli, where he edited numerous books on Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron, and Sol LeWitt, among others. He is the former editor of exhibitions and publications at the Rice University's School of Architecture and previously worked as editorial director at Maharam and a professor of architecture and design at California College of the Arts.

Learn more:
Design and travel magazine August launches with an eye on Milan [Curbed]


Courtesy of Linda Taalman

Linda Taalman lives and practices in Los Angeles, where she leads her company IT House Inc., facilitating the completion of over a dozen offsite-fabricated IT House projects. She simultaneously directs her studio Taalman Architecture, formerly Taalman Koch Architecture, where her projects have garnered a multitude of accolades: Dia: Beacon (AIA NY Merit Award 2006), IT House (AIA LA Merit Award 2008, Sunset Western Home Awards 2009- Best Small Space), the Small Skyscraper (LEF Fund), and Stabiae Archeological Park (ASLA Scraper Award). Taalman’s explorations in architecture investigate the potential of building technologies and systems, sustainability, practicality, and ingenuity. She has lectured widely, from Copenhagen to Aspen, and her work has been exhibited throughout the world at the likes of MOMA, Art Basel, and the Vitra Design Museum. A graduate of the Cooper Union, she is also an Associate Professor of Architecture at Woodbury University.

Read more:
iT House, Joshua Tree [Dwell, February 2009]
Linda Taalman: My SoCal Art History [KCET]


Courtesy of Darren Walker

Darren Walker is President of the Ford Foundation, the nation’s second largest philanthropy, and for two decades has been a leader in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. He led the committee that helped bring a resolution to the city of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy and chairs the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance. Prior to joining Ford, he was Vice President at the Rockefeller Foundation where he managed the rebuild New Orleans initiative after Hurricane Katrina. In the 1990s, as COO of Harlem’s largest community development organization, the Abyssinian Development Corporation, Darren oversaw a comprehensive revitalization program resulting in over 1,000 new units of housing, Harlem’s first commercial development in twenty years, and New York’s first public school built and managed by a community organization. Walker serves as a trustee of Carnegie Hall, New York City Ballet, the High Line, the Arcus Foundation and PepsiCo. Educated exclusively in public schools, Darren received the “Distinguished Alumnus Award,” the highest honor given by his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. In 2016, TIME magazine named him to its annual list of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the recipient of thirteen honorary degrees.

Read more:
The Ford Foundation’s quest to fix the world [The New Yorker]
Inside the proposed changes to landmarked Ford Foundation [Curbed]