AIA Gold Medal Is Awarded to James Stewart Polshek

James Stewart Polshek will receive the 2018 AIA Gold Medal at the AIA Conference on Architecture 2018.

James Stewart Polshek will receive the 2018 AIA Gold Medal at the AIA Conference on Architecture 2018.

The Board of Directors and the Strategic Council of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has voted to award the 2018 AIA Gold Medal to James Stewart Polshek, FAIA. The Gold Medal honors an individual or pair of architects whose body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture. Polshek will be honored at the AIA Conference on Architecture 2018 in New York City.

Born in Akron, Ohio, Polshek earned a Master of Architecture degree from Yale in 1955. The office that Polshek began in 1963, as James Stewart Polshek Architect, evolved through multiple iterations. Following his retirement in 2005, the firm transitioned in 2010 to Ennead Architects. Polshek has fostered an environment wherein design, collaboration and research work in concert to create enduring architecture. His vision and leadership has earned the firm countless accolades, including more than 200 design awards, the 1992 AIA Architecture Firm Award, and 15 National Honor Awards for Architecture.

Concurrent to leading the firm, Polshek served as dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation from 1972 to 1987. At the time, Columbia played a central role in the debate over style and meaning during a period in which architecture was being fundamentally questioned. His collaborative spirit led to a complete revision of the curriculum and direction that, in turn, reversed its decline and attracted faculty. Polshek’s 1987 restoration and renovation of Carnegie Hall, New York, began with a master plan that helped establish his approach to revitalization. A complete restoration of its original details as well as the implementation of new ones —lighting, graphics, and a new marquee — were coupled with a dose of advocacy for landmark buildings threatened by market forces.

In Washington, D.C., the 645,000-square-foot Newseum/Freedom Forum Headquarters, completed in 2008, is a monument to journalism and free speech. The architectural expression of the mission of the institute manifests in a symbol of openness: a 4,500-square-foot clear glass window woven into the fabric of Penn Quarter. Polshek’s National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, just a block from Independence Hall, references the immigrant experience in America through two interlocking volumes of opaqueness and transparency. The historical context of the museum bolsters its efforts to inspire people of all backgrounds.

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

Polshek is the 74th recipient of the Gold Medal. He joins the ranks of such visionaries as Frank Lloyd Wright (1949), Louis Sullivan (1944), Le Corbusier (1961), Louis I. Kahn (1971), I.M. Pei (1979), Thom Mayne (2013), Julia Morgan (2014), Moshe Safdie (2015), Denise Scott Brown & Robert Venturi (2016), and Paul Revere Williams (2017). In recognition of his legacy to architecture, Polshek’s name will be chiseled into the granite Wall of Honor in the lobby of the AIA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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