The Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) voted yesterday to award the 2010 AIA Gold Medal to Peter Bohlin, FAIA, founder of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, which has five U.S. offices, who is renowned for his versatile, contextual use of materials.
The AIA Gold Medal, voted on annually, is considered to be the profession’s highest honor that an individual can receive. The Gold Medal honors an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture. Bohlin will be honored at the 2010 AIA National Convention in Miami.
AIA President Marvin Malecha, FAIA, notified Bohlin by telephone immediately after the Board made its decision. “I’m so pleased and I’m surprised,” said Bohlin. “We all believe in architecture. It is our life to a great extent. Like athletes, we all know that it’s hard work to make it look easy, and we’re all constantly striving to do that.”
Over the course of his long career, Bohlin has designed superlative rural houses, nature centers as well as excellent urban buildings. The key to success for each building type is their contextual use of materials. “He moves from the log cabin to the glass box with the same unassailable ethic that has for hundreds of years defined and shaped an architectural tradition rooted in the exercise of knowledge and made unique only by the personal will, character, and imagination of its creator,” wrote Mack Scogin, FAIA, of Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, in a recommendation letter.
“His architecture clearly communicates that buildings are not just placed on the landscape, but are part of the landscape and indeed enhance the experience of nature,” wrote Ed Feiner, FAIA, former General Services Administration chief architect, in a letter of recommendation.
Examples of Bohlin’s work includes:
o The 5th Ave. Apple Store in New York City, a pure, pristine glass cube absent any structural steel that takes visitors below ground, away from its busy urban milieu, and into one of Apple’s flagship retail destinations.
o The Ledge House, which builds a serene, natural light-bathed retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains by arranging a series of timber and stone pavilions in a horseshoe pattern.
o The William J. Nealon Federal Building and US Courthouse in Scranton, Pa., which subtly integrates a new courthouse building into the original 19th century Neo-Classical facility with a multi-story, sky-lit atrium.
o The Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, Pa., which distills Bohlin’s approach to nature center design to its essence with basic shed massing, a broad, overhanging roof, natural materials, and a luminous, lantern-like glow from within.
o Seattle City Hall; its varied curtain wall facades of steel and glass uniquely reflect the solar orientation and urban fabric of each face.
Bohlin and his 200-person practice, which has offices in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco, have shown a deference to site context and a tendency for design humility that is becoming rarer and rarer among the top tier of practitioners. Again and again, his work demonstrates that great cities, towns, and buildings are created by designers looking to further the story of their place in a collaborative and contextual way, not by singular architecture that calls for heedless and self-serving attention. Awarding the Gold Medal to Bohlin, Scogin wrote in his recommendation letter, would communicate that “architects can in fact address all the complexities of our present day world with the grace and humility that privileges the best of human aspiration.”
Bohlin’s projects have earned 14 national AIA Awards, including COTE Top Ten Green Project Awards, AIA Committee on Education and AIA Housing Awards. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson was the recipient of the 1994 AIA Firm Award. Bohlin is the 66th AIA Gold Medalist. He joins the ranks of such visionaries as Thomas Jefferson (1993), Frank Lloyd Wright (1949), Louis Sullivan (1944), LeCorbusier (1961), Louis Kahn (1971), I.M. Pei (1979), Frank Gehry (1999), and Renzo Piano (2008). In recognition of his legacy to architecture, his name will be chiseled into the granite Wall of Honor in the lobby of the AIA headquarters in Washington, D.C.