2018 AIA Gold Medal Goes to James Stewart Polshek

Polshek will receive the AIA Gold Medal 2018, while Minneapolis-based firm Snow Kreilich Architects received the AIA’s Firm Award.

AIA Gold Medal 2018
William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park Courtesy Timothy Hursley

Yesterday evening, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced that architect James Stewart Polshek will receive its highest professional honor, the Gold Medal. The annual award, considered the most prestigious architectural prize in the United States, seeks to recognize architects “whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.”

“Polshek’s sensitivity as an architect and his willingness to give credit to others–whether they be his clients, staff or collaborators–have helped restore the promise that architecture can be an uplifting force in the world,” the AIA said in its announcement. “Everywhere that he has worked, and throughout his eloquent writings, he has raised the level of discussion while pursuing an unambiguous goal of architecture as a healing art.”

After graduating from Yale in 1955, Polshek worked for I.M. Pei (the recipient of the 1979 Gold Medal), Ulrich Franzen, and others before establishing his own firm, James Stewart Polshek Architect in 1963. This firm set the groundwork for what would eventually become Ennead Architects in 2010 (Polshek left the firm in 2005). Polshek’s firm gained national recognition for cultural and institutional projects including a 1987 restoration of Carnegie Hall, Washington D.C.’s Newseum, the entry pavilion to the McKim, Mead, & White-designed Brooklyn Museum, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Center, and many more. Over the course of his career, his architectural practice has received more than 200 design awards—including the 1992 AIA Firm Award.

Polshek has also contributed significantly to architecture education. For 15 years until 1987, he served as the dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) shaping both the curriculum, its faculty, and its path forward.

“I became an architect because I understood even at the age of 19 or 20 years old, that every building had consequences. Every building was inherently a social critique,” Polshek told Metropolis in 2014. “I’ve had arguments with other architects about the indivisibility of politics and architecture, but that’s something that I grew up with and it has never left me.”

AIA Gold Medal 2018
Snow Kreilich Architects Courtesy Snow Kreilich Architects

Meanwhile, the AIA bestowed its Architecture Firm Award to Minneapolis-based Snow Kreilich Architects. Founded by Julie Snow in 1995, the firm, with its elegant approach to form and materials, has established itself as one of the most prominent architecture offices in the Upper Midwest. The firm’s portfolio encompasses a wide range of building types and scales, including a baseball stadium for the St. Paul Saints, a border port of entry facility in Maine, high-end residences and lofts, and humble rest areas and transit stations. But the AIA in its citation also pointed to the firm’s concerted efforts to foster a diverse practice (50 percent of its staff are women and minorities) as well as its robust program of pro-bono work.

Of the firm, prize juror and architect Marlon Blackwell wrote, “This is an architecture of use and convenience, permanence, and beauty, deeply rooted to its place, and constructed of materials choreographed in an emotive way, with poetic qualities that move us deeply.”

Both Polshek and Snow Kreilich will receive their awards at the AIA’s national convention in New York this spring.

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