Contract - Honoring Women in Architecture and Design

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Honoring Women in Architecture and Design

28 January, 2014

-By John Czarnecki



This editorial appeared in Contract's January/February 2014 issue. To read the digital edition, click here.

Welcome to our annual Interiors Awards issue. This year, we are celebrating 35 years of the Interiors Awards, including the Designer of the Year distinction. For the first time, both our Designer of the Year honor and the Legend Award both solely go to women in the same year. I’m so pleased to honor Krista Ninivaggi, the director of interiors at New York–based SHoP Architects, as the 35th Designer of the Year. Ninivaggi is entrusted by the leaders of one of the most respected firms in New York to establish and build its interiors business. And Trisha Wilson—the hospitality designer who founded Wilson Associates and is a true heroine through her work with The Wilson Foundation in South Africa—is the Legend Award recipient.

In this awards season, it seems that everyone is a critic when it comes to the selections of winners in whatever award program, whether it be for movies, television, music, or within our own profession. In December, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced that Julia Morgan would be posthumously awarded the 2014 AIA Gold Medal. Morgan, who died in 1957, designed more than 700 buildings in the first half of the 20th century, including the Hearst Castle in California, and was the first woman to be a licensed architect in that state (in 1904, before women had the right to vote in California or across the United States) after being the first woman admitted to the architecture program at l'École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Morgan is the first female recipient of the AIA Gold Medal, which has been awarded since 1907. No living woman has received the honor. The Gold Medal is considered the highest honor the AIA can bestow on an individual, living or dead, for their life’s work, and names of all Gold Medalists are etched in granite in the AIA national headquarters lobby in Washington, D.C. The AIA national board of directors votes for a winner, but a recipient is not awarded every year. Other posthumous honorees have included Thomas Jefferson, awarded in 1993, and 
Sam Mockbee, honored two years after his death.

After the Morgan Gold Medal announcement, online commentary included pointed criticism at the AIA for choosing Morgan, dead for 56 years, to receive the Gold Medal. The comments, curiously primarily from men, described the selection with phrases such as: “serious miscalculation,” “tone deaf,” “tepidness,” “patronizing,” “conciliatory,” “embarrassing,” “opportunistic,” and “to placate people.” Really?


That bluster—while directed at the AIA—is just, plain, overtly harsh and wrong, and disrespectful to Morgan herself. Importantly, 
it discredits Julia Morgan as a person and as an architect for her life’s work. Imagine the challenges and perceptions that she had dealt with as a female architect with predominantly male colleagues and clients 
a century ago—she must have had a steely resolve to accomplish what she did.

Should the AIA have named a woman as Gold Medal winner sooner? Absolutely. And Morgan’s recognition is overdue, but the AIA boards through the years, sadly, just did not take the initiative to award her years earlier. Should a living woman have won the award by now? Definitely. But past decisions aside, Julia Morgan has been selected this year and her pioneering career should be remembered and celebrated. Understanding the breadth of her accomplishments, it is hard to name a more worthy individual. Criticizing the selection is, in turn, dishonoring Morgan herself.

Next year and beyond, will all eyes be on the AIA to select a living woman as the Gold Medal winner? Yes. Who do you believe the first living woman to win the award alone should be? I say “alone,” because, in an interesting twist, the AIA has instituted a change in its Gold Medal requirements, allowing for collaborators working as a pair to win beginning next year. That opens the door for Gold Medal possibilities such as Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, as well as Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, who are leading the design of the latest MoMA expansion (page 23) and have completed other culturally significant work.

To be sure, the architecture profession still has improvements to make in gender and racial diversity. Conditions are absolutely not equal. Perhaps the discussions related to this Gold Medal selection will open a broader dialogue about the profession, and will encourage others to be part of changing the future face of architecture and design. That is what we need.

Sincerely,

John Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA, Hon. IIDA


Editor in Chief




Honoring Women in Architecture and Design

28 January, 2014


This editorial appeared in Contract's January/February 2014 issue. To read the digital edition, click here.

Welcome to our annual Interiors Awards issue. This year, we are celebrating 35 years of the Interiors Awards, including the Designer of the Year distinction. For the first time, both our Designer of the Year honor and the Legend Award both solely go to women in the same year. I’m so pleased to honor Krista Ninivaggi, the director of interiors at New York–based SHoP Architects, as the 35th Designer of the Year. Ninivaggi is entrusted by the leaders of one of the most respected firms in New York to establish and build its interiors business. And Trisha Wilson—the hospitality designer who founded Wilson Associates and is a true heroine through her work with The Wilson Foundation in South Africa—is the Legend Award recipient.

In this awards season, it seems that everyone is a critic when it comes to the selections of winners in whatever award program, whether it be for movies, television, music, or within our own profession. In December, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced that Julia Morgan would be posthumously awarded the 2014 AIA Gold Medal. Morgan, who died in 1957, designed more than 700 buildings in the first half of the 20th century, including the Hearst Castle in California, and was the first woman to be a licensed architect in that state (in 1904, before women had the right to vote in California or across the United States) after being the first woman admitted to the architecture program at l'École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Morgan is the first female recipient of the AIA Gold Medal, which has been awarded since 1907. No living woman has received the honor. The Gold Medal is considered the highest honor the AIA can bestow on an individual, living or dead, for their life’s work, and names of all Gold Medalists are etched in granite in the AIA national headquarters lobby in Washington, D.C. The AIA national board of directors votes for a winner, but a recipient is not awarded every year. Other posthumous honorees have included Thomas Jefferson, awarded in 1993, and 
Sam Mockbee, honored two years after his death.

After the Morgan Gold Medal announcement, online commentary included pointed criticism at the AIA for choosing Morgan, dead for 56 years, to receive the Gold Medal. The comments, curiously primarily from men, described the selection with phrases such as: “serious miscalculation,” “tone deaf,” “tepidness,” “patronizing,” “conciliatory,” “embarrassing,” “opportunistic,” and “to placate people.” Really?


That bluster—while directed at the AIA—is just, plain, overtly harsh and wrong, and disrespectful to Morgan herself. Importantly, 
it discredits Julia Morgan as a person and as an architect for her life’s work. Imagine the challenges and perceptions that she had dealt with as a female architect with predominantly male colleagues and clients 
a century ago—she must have had a steely resolve to accomplish what she did.

Should the AIA have named a woman as Gold Medal winner sooner? Absolutely. And Morgan’s recognition is overdue, but the AIA boards through the years, sadly, just did not take the initiative to award her years earlier. Should a living woman have won the award by now? Definitely. But past decisions aside, Julia Morgan has been selected this year and her pioneering career should be remembered and celebrated. Understanding the breadth of her accomplishments, it is hard to name a more worthy individual. Criticizing the selection is, in turn, dishonoring Morgan herself.

Next year and beyond, will all eyes be on the AIA to select a living woman as the Gold Medal winner? Yes. Who do you believe the first living woman to win the award alone should be? I say “alone,” because, in an interesting twist, the AIA has instituted a change in its Gold Medal requirements, allowing for collaborators working as a pair to win beginning next year. That opens the door for Gold Medal possibilities such as Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, as well as Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, who are leading the design of the latest MoMA expansion (page 23) and have completed other culturally significant work.

To be sure, the architecture profession still has improvements to make in gender and racial diversity. Conditions are absolutely not equal. Perhaps the discussions related to this Gold Medal selection will open a broader dialogue about the profession, and will encourage others to be part of changing the future face of architecture and design. That is what we need.

Sincerely,

John Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA, Hon. IIDA


Editor in Chief

 


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