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September 29, 2009
by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York

“I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis, and I don’t deserve that either,” once quipped comedian Jack Benny. At the recent Rochester convocation of AIA New York State, 41 design awards, four student awards, and 12 service and achievement awards were conferred at two gala ceremonies. The acceptance speeches sounded like silent movies. To keep things moving, there were no opportunities for award winners at either event to thank clients, colleagues, collaborators, co-workers, co-habitators or, even, architectural photographers.

The 2009 Design Awards evening on Thursday, 09.24.09, was opened by AIA New York State President Burton Roslyn, AIA, who said that the purpose of the awards was “to celebrate design achievement and generate greater public interest…. That 41 were selected from a record number of 310 design submissions,” he declared, “is a tribute to the diligent work of the design jury, headed by Design Award Jury Chair Charles Matta, FAIA, the Director of Federal Buildings and Modernizations in the Office of the Chief Architect at GSA.” Sounding a sour note, AIA Rochester 2009 President Robert A. Healy, AIA, complained from the lectern that all 41 awards were won, this year, by NYC-based firms. Roslyn engaged in the debate by replying that the competition was anonymous, entries were unmarked, and the jurors were not aware of the location of the office of the project authors.

Matta, taking the stage, also complimented the hard work and difficult decisions of his jury colleagues, Alan H. Cobb, FAIA, VP, Director of Design, Architecture and Sustainability, Albert Kahn Associates; Tom S. Howorth, FAIA, President, Howorth & Associates Architects; Mark Robbins, Dean, Syracuse University School of Architecture; and Judith E. Bergtraum, Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning, Construction and Management, City University of New York. But he observed that “the number of projects is indicative of the economic boom in place until 2008” implicitly raising the question of what we will see next year.

For attendees there was no Emmy or Tony suspense — award-winners had been notified in advance, and programs nicely printed. Nonetheless, a few award winners were surprisingly absent from the proceedings, which many in the room found to be unfortunate and disrespectful. Happily, many distinguished practitioners including Rick Cook, AIA, stepped up to the lectern; Cook + Fox garnered three design awards for projects as diverse as 401 West 14th Street, 11 Christopher Street, and the Center for Friends Without a Border in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Sylvia Smith, FAIA, of FXFOWLE Architects, was there to receive design awards for the Lion House Reconstruction at the Bronx Zoo and the lean reconstruction of Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan, achieved in concert with Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The Best in New York State Award was given to the four firms who together made possible the TKTS Booth and Revitalization of Father Duffy Square; Choi Ropiha (concept architects), Perkins Eastman (design architects), William Fellows Architects/PKSB (plaza architects), and Bresnan Architects (preservation architects) admirably shared the acclaim for this transformational project. One Perkins Eastman rep, standing on the podium next to PKSB’s (and AIANY 2009 President) Sherida Paulsen, FAIA, even decked out in a kilt for the occasion.

Many younger and emerging architects were present to accept their awards and the accolades of their peers. These included Philip Wu, who received an award of excellence for a project at 39 East 13th Street, and Jolie Kerns of Toshiko Mori Architect, who designed a Newspaper Café in Jinhua City, China, which also received an excellence award.

What we missed in speeches, we regained in the beauty of the winning project images, projected through Powerpoint, the 21st century equivalent of a camera obscura — a darkened chamber in which the real image of an object is received through a small opening or lens.

The Honor Awards ceremony, held at George Eastman House and sponsored by Zetlin & DeChiara, took place on Friday, 09.25.09, and was equally short and sweet. The quick pace allowed those in the audience to subsequently mingle with the honorees while touring the National Register house and the generous reception in the adjacent International Museum of Photography. AIANY Chapter members also won the lion’s share of these awards. The downstate prevalence was, again, the elephant in the room. AIANY Chapter members honored included Venesa Alicea, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP (Intern/Associate Award), Abby Suckle, FAIA (Fellows Award), Leevi Kiil, FAIA (President’s Award), and Anthony Vidler (Educator’s Award). The Firm of the Year was conferred upon Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, and one of the Student Awards went to Jackie Delsandro of Parsons, The New School of Design, School of Constructed Environments. A complete list of AIANYS Design, Honor, and Student Awards, will be posted on AIANYS’s website soon. Design matters and service was honored.

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