The five experts who make up the jury of the National Building Museum’s Vincent Scully Prize can spend hours debating the merits of as many as 40 nominees in order to determine a winner who represents “intellectual accomplishment in architecture and an instrumental role in dialogue,” says David M. Schwarz, FAIA, the jury’s chair since the program’s inception a decade ago. For the 2008 laureate, Schwarz says, the jurors made their selection “in just 20 minutes.”
Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, was the subject of this brief discussion. Stern, as well as the decade anniversary of the Vincent Scully Prize, will be feted in a series of events this coming November. Stern says he will donate the $45,000 in prize money to Yale University, where he has served as the dean of the architecture school since 1998. The award’s namesake, Vincent J. Scully, has taught art and architectural history at Yale since 1949.
“The prize has a very personal meaning to me, because of how much I owe to Vince as my teacher and friend all these years,” Stern says. “I’ve enjoyed many, many discussions with Vince advocating individual architects and positions in architecture, whether its Lutyens or Venturi, or Moses-versus-Jacobs debates over large-scale urban interventions. They are the warp and weft of my own sensibility as an architect, and my own writing and building and teaching as an architect.”
The prize does not recognize built work but rather “people who tend to foster public discourse,” Schwarz says, noting that laureates have been chosen for their writing and teaching accomplishments. Past winners include Scully himself, as well as Jane Jacobs, Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, the Aga Khan, the Prince of Wales, Phyllis Lambert, Witold Rybczynski, and Richard Moe. Stern is only the third practicing architect to receive the honor.
Schwarz says that Stern’s “seminal” series of New York history books contributed to his selection by the jury, as did his teaching positions at Columbia and Yale. A pluralistic deanship at the Yale School of Architecture elicited specific comment: “I think Bob’s commitment to a broad range of architectural expressions is remarkable,” Schwarz says. This diversity also embodies the spirit of the award, which has been given to thought leaders in the fields of neoclassical, modern, and non-Western architecture.