There are so many ways the AIA 25-Year Award could have gone this year: supporting threatened postmodernism, amplifying diverse voices, expanding the award’s geography.
But instead, the award jury chose not to choose, rejecting the submissions as (reading between the lines) either too populist or too inside baseball. May we humbly suggest that the AIA get more aggressive about soliciting nominations—or that the jury members might have made some late submissions themselves?
The award panel could have made a statement about the threats to postmodernism by choosing Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s AT&T Building (1984) where demolition started on the lobby yesterday, or Michael Graves’s Humana Building (1985) in Louisville, considered a better neighbor than the more famous Portland Building.
Given the queasiness that many architects today feel toward postmodernism, the dominant style for corporate architecture, at least, between 1983 and 1993, it would be instructive to award examples that exhibit “timelessness and positive impact,” the substance within the style.
On Twitter, Archidose’s John Hill suggested W.G. Clark and Charles Menafee’s Inn at Middleton Place in Charleston, South Carolina, which turned 25 in 2012. A place of pilgrimage for many architects, the inn is a romantic, landscape-first reinterpretation of the southern plantation, its solid walls covered in vines, its guest rooms seemingly made of giant multi-pane windows. Precious few previous recipients have been in southern states.
The Moore/Andersson Compound in Austin, a collection of residential buildings and workspaces by Charles Moore and Arthur Andersson initiated in 1984 just won the Texas AIA’s version of this award, joining previous national winners like Renzo Piano’s Menil Collection. The complex demonstrates Moore’s idiosyncratic and humorous interpretation of architectural precedent, playing with scale, decoration and color.
If high-tech is your jam Richard Rogers’s Patscentre (1985) outside Princeton is an arresting presence in the automobile landscape as well as a necessary entry in the history of pre-fab buildings. It zigs back toward the 1960s while many contemporaries were zagging toward classicism. —Alexandra Lange
It’s still a decade away, but as the country begins the process of welcoming the Olympics back to the United States, American architects will be tapped to play a unique role for such an important moment for the country.
Unfortunately, on the international stage, most of the structures which have been built for the Olympics over the last 25 years have made architects complicit in creating urban blight, building massive, pricey new stadiums which sit underused or slowly decaying in our cities. So why not bestow the 25-Year Award upon the team that managed to get it so very right back in 1984—so much so that the exact same approach is being taken to design the Olympics ten years from now?
Instead of designing a signature building, a team from The Jerde Partnership and Sussman/Prejza built a revolutionary graphics and wayfinding system for the games which helped the 1984 Olympics become the most fiscally responsible—and ultimately successful—games in history.
“Rather than construct ground-up stadiums and dorms, the collaborators created a new Olympic model, in which they reconsidered existing structures such as the LA Memorial Coliseum and other venues, through design elements, rehab, and, often, temporary installations.”
Don’t take my word for it: That language is from the Los Angeles chapter of the AIA, which bestowed the local version of this award upon this team two years ago, showing why the design remains so influential and enduring.
When baseball writers consider adding to their pantheon of greats, they discuss “first-ballot” winners, players who deserve induction the moment they’re eligible. May I suggest Dame Zaha Hadid, one of the most important architectural voices of her generation, and the Land Art-like Vitra Fire Station, a striking concrete prism and first commission?
Her angular addition to Vitra’s campus, a highlight within a gallery of modernist greats, highlights her genius for conceptual design, and prompted a great response from one critic: “If God is in the details, then this would seem to be an atheist’s building.”
When I think of the AIA’s 25-year award, it’s about celebrating a building whose merits last longer than its sheen of newness. It’s about honoring a building that makes both architects and people who’ve never heard of the AIA fall in love with it. It acknowledges a building that directly inspires future buildings, and continues to exceed expectations.
When I read that the AIA jury could not find a single building completed between 1983 and 1993 (the 25-year award actually goes to projects between 25 and 35 years old), I was shocked. Especially considering that one of the the most important precedent-setting designs from our generation comes from that era: Camden Yards.
Completed in April 1992, Baltimore’s Camden Yards is 25 today and turns 26 later this year. It was the first of a new wave of retro-inspired urban baseball stadiums. The design, by Populous and the Orioles’ design director Janet Smith, changed how baseball is played: the asymmetrical field, dictated by the constraints of building in an urban context, favors certain pitchers or hitters. (The first baseball stadiums were asymmetrical but over the years, they became uniform.)
The design changed how baseball fans experienced the sport, as the stadiums were a nostalgic nod to historic parks, like Wrigley Field. It’s a page straight out of postmodernism. The design also changed architecture. Before Camden Yards, multi-sport stadiums were the norm. After Camden Yards, every baseball team wanted its own dedicated stadium. And if you’ve been in a ball park built after 1992—Citi Field, AT&T Park, Petco Park—there’s a good chance it’s emulating Camden Yards to some degree.
Camden Yards was a successful adaptive reuse projects and, while its economic impact is debated, it’s been a positive force for Baltimore. In 1992, the AIA recognized the project’s merits with an Excellence In Urban Design Award. Now it’s time for the AIA to step up to the plate and give Camden yards the 25-year award it deserves.