Each year, the AIA Honor Awards provide a rough outline of architectural culture in the U.S. Though not conceived as a larger statement, the projects invariably serve to sketch an American sensibility. Lacking the adventurous clients of Europe or the gargantuan budgets of the Middle East or China, American architecture often finds itself in limited situations that demand resourcefulness, often achieving unexpected results.
The AIA Gold Medalist, Peter Bohlin, FAIA, of the firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (1994 AIA Firm of the Year Award winner), represents a clear-eyed, humanist Modernism, with a rigorous approach to environmental sustainability. Bohlin’s Gold Medal also returns the award to the U.S., after being given for the past two years to architects from abroad (Renzo Piano in 2008 and Glenn Murcutt in 2009). Pugh + Scarpa, this year’s Firm of the Year Award winner, displays similar traits as Bohlin, albeit inflected with an occasionally irreverent, Californian sensibility. The award is an acknowledgment of work that consistently engages social problems and the public realm with a light and clever hand, and it joins a long list of prior accolades, not least the firm’s 14 previous AIA Honor Awards. Pugh + Scarpa’s Step Up on 5th was also among the 28 Honor Awards this year, selected from over 700 submissions.
Those projects exemplify a range of the best design work from around the country and around the world. A restoration in hurricane-ravaged Mississippi, a creative renovation of a concert hall in New York City, and an adaptive reuse of industrial dock buildings in Philadelphia, now a campus of offices, all reflect the continued need to reimagine and revitalize existing structures everywhere. Other projects — fashion boutiques and new restaurants, master plans and institutional buildings — provide a wide sampling of the accomplished work happening today. Each project displays a thoughtful, unique response, indicating that the best architectural solution is never the rule, but the notable exception.