Scene One. Talking to ourselves. Setting, the vaguely pink ballroom of the largest convention hotel, Anywhere U.S.A. The acrylic crystals in the overscaled chandeliers reflect the dimming lights. The last of the overcooked, thin filets are cleared; the coffee and dessert are being jostled onto the tables while the crowd simmers down. Your mate squeezes your hand as you force a smile, stoked by one too many margaritas during the cocktail hour. The honor awards ceremony has begun.
This year it mattered. For once, your work had reached a level of creativity and experience that warranted the extra effort and cost that the state awards program demanded. The clients loved their new project and wanted to see it communicated to others: They said so repeatedly. It mattered to the office—to the project managers and specifiers and night-owl junior designers who perfected the details.
So you sprang for the professional photographer, paid too much for the gorgeous pictures, assembled the boards, wrote the self-congratulatory copy, and now find yourself in this ballroom, with the dean of the state university making jokey comments about his in-crowd designer friends and snide remarks about the projects in general. With clients present. Why should this evening feel like a toothache?
Despite the fact that your project clearly stood out from the pack, when the emcee announced winner number six, suddenly the glaring lights returned and it was clear that somehow, the jury in Los Angeles, those names you admired so much, hadn’t picked your work. Was it all a mistake? While the crowds swelled around the lucky few, you took a long walk to the parking lot and had a meaningful talk with your spouse about fickle juries, while your partner dog-cussed the dean. Before falling asleep, you determine that you’ll enter again next year and show them all.
Scene Two. Talking to others. Setting, the pink-lighted Moderne luxe of the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, high spring. The last of the cold halibut luncheon plates has been cleared as the crowd simmers down for the National Magazine Awards. Here, our table of 10 represents a small architectural outpost—Architectural Record, a tiny David in a sea of Goliaths (think Business Week, Oprah, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker).
After the music swells for individual achievements in writing or editing, the category then shifts to General Excellence, the top award. There will be five winners representing the best of the best, sorted by circulation. Amazingly, we find ourselves as finalists in this exalted company, competing in our own heat with Harper’s and Mother Jones and Nylon and Preservation, just as nervous as anyone would be, but honestly satisfied to be included, when—low and behold—the emcee calls out, “Architectural Record.”
Winner! But with a difference. At the luncheon, not only our magazine but all architecture took a small leap forward. For once, we emerged from the pack of professional publications, away from the esoteric or the academic shelves. Finally, we were not only talking to ourselves, but to the world.
Though simplistic as a message, it is true that persistence pays off, for we had tried before. However, on Wednesday, May 8, 2003, Architectural Record and all architecture took center stage at the Waldorf, at a time when our subject has entered the public debate. We did it, the jury said, on the strength of our writing, our design, our photography, and our social concern. The best editors in the country recognized it, and we did it for you.
While awards events may be tedious for editors as well as architects, they can place our work before a larger audience and propel the discussion outside of our peer group. Who knows? One day you may find yourself bounding onto the stage in another pink ballroom, admitting to yourself what we did: If truth be told, winning feels so sweet.