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October 1, 2014
by Camila Schaulson Frenz
New York Bronze and Silver Medal winners David Benjamin, The Living and Kai-Uwe Bergmann, AIA, of BIG celebrate their big win.Credit: Camila Schaulsohn
Brooklyn-based Debbie Chen received the Next Generation First Prize at the 2014 North American Holcim Awards.Courtesy of the Holcim Foundation
Bronze, Gold, and Silver winners of the 2014 North American Holcim Awards: David Benjamin, The Living; Water Pore Partnership; and BIG - Bjarke Ingels Group.Courtesy of the Holcim Foundation
The 2014 North American Holcim Awards ceremony took place at the Evergreen Brick Works, a former Holcim Awards winner.Credit: Camila Schaulsohn
Toronto's CN TowerCredit: Camila Schaulsohn

On 09.18.14, the Holcim Foundation announced the winners of the 2014 North American Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction during a ceremony held at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto. The location was certainly not an afterthought on the part of the program’s organizers. A former quarry and industrial site located in Toronto’s Don River Valley, it re-opened in 2010 as a environmentally-focused community center designed by prominent firms including Du Toit Allsopp Hiller Architects and Diamond Schmitt Architects.  It is also a former Holcim Award winner, receiving an acknowledgement at the Montreal ceremony in 2008, two years prior to its construction.

As Mark Jarzombek, associate dean at the MIT School of Architecture and a juror for the North America region, noted, the Holcim Awards for sustainable construction are awarded to “shovel-ready” projects – those still in planning phase but with a high probability of being built. The Holcim Foundation hopes that the prestige of winning the award will serve as an impetus for the project’s completion. “The Holcim Awards help projects on the way from paper to realization, sometimes in cement,” added Montreal broadcaster and host Dennis Trudeau.

The fourth international awards competition attracted 6,103 entries from 152 countries.  After all submissions were vetted, eligible submissions were evaluated by jurors representing five different geographical regions – North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa Middle East, and Asia Pacific. Toronto was the location of the second of five regional award ceremonies, following Moscow. At the Evergreen Brick Works, 13 projects from the North American region were recognized, with prizes $330,000. Winners were awarded Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals, as well as four acknowledgements and six “Next Generation” awards for young professionals and students. Throughout the rest of 2014, ceremonies will take place in Medellín, Beirut, and Jakarta, after which three global award winners will be selected from the 15 regional medal winners. 

Approaches to sustainable design in New York City shone, with top awards going to many projects and architects, including the “Next Generation” first prize to Brooklyn-based Debbie Chen for “Trash for Use: Harvesting Utility from Waste”; the Bronze Medal to David Benjamin, The Living for “Hy-Fi”; and the Silver Medal to BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group for the firm’s Rebuild by Design entry, the “Big U.” The Gold Medal (and its $100,000 prize) went to the Water Pore Partnership for their “Poreform” project, developed while New York-based Amy Mielke and Caitlin Gucker-Kanter Taylor were students at the Yale School of Architecture.

The winning projects most clearly expressed the criteria that the Holcim Foundation’s North American judges applied to the 211 “formally correct” entries submitted. These criteria can be summed up in five Ps: Innovation transferability (Progress), ethical standards and social equity (People), resources and environmental performance (Planet), economic impact and compatibility (Prosperity), and contextual aesthetic impact (Place).

According to Jarzombek, the set of values reflected by the five Ps and the emphasis placed on the pressing issue of sustainability set the Holcim Awards apart from other architecture prizes. Similarly, he noted that, in its short history, the Holcim Foundation has given more prizes to women than all other prestigious awards competitions combined. To this end, the MIT associate dean concluded his remarks with three provocative words: “Move over, Pritzker.”

The awards are sponsored by Holcim, Ltd., a global building materials and aggregates company, which launched the Holcim Foundation in 2003 to promote sustainable practices in construction. Holcim CEO Bernard Fontana believes the construction industry, whose products last for hundreds of years, must think in the long term and invest in finding sustainable approaches to construction. “Our footprint is already too large, we are consuming resources that belong to our children,” said Fontana during his presentation.

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