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Postmodern gem in London wins 2019 AIA 25-Year Award

Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates’ Sainsbury Wing, a 1991 addition to London’s National Gallery, took home this year’s prize

Woman standing next to limestone columns
Interior view of atrium and gallery space.
Photo by Matt Wargo courtesy AIA

Last year, the American Institute of Architects decided for the first time since 1971 to withhold its 25-Year Award, a (supposedly) annual honor given to a building that has proven its significance after approximately 25 years of existence.

We were, in a word, disappointed. By our estimation, there were plenty of buildings built between 1983 and 1993 that were worthy of the accolade, including a handful of postmodern gems.

People walking up stairs
Interior view of gallery space.
Photo by Phil Starlin courtesy AIA

Now, postmodernism is getting its due. This year, the AIA granted the 25-Year Award to Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates’ Sainsbury Wing, the columned addition to London’s National Gallery.

The 120,000-square-foot wing elicited mixed reactions when it was completed in 1991. Built from limestone, glass, and metal, the building was stately yet playful, traditional yet modern. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown designed the wing to live alongside William Wilkins’ original 1893 building, as a modern homage to the past. They didn’t design it to match.

Protesters outside limestone buildings
Exterior view from Trafalgar Square during a protest.
Photo by Matt Wargo courtesy AIA

The Sainsbury Wing has remained largely untouched since its completion and was granted Grade I status, making it one of the U.K.’s most architecturally significant buildings.

Indeed, postmodernism isn’t for everyone, but it still deserves to be considered, critiqued, and, yes, celebrated.