Rona Rothenberg Receives Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is honoring Rona Rothenberg, FAIA, with its 2020 Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture. 

The Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture recognizes architects, public officials, or other individuals who design public facilities and advocate for design excellence.

By applying her background and affinity for justice, Rothenberg, has distinguished herself as a servant who advances public architecture, as she puts it, “from the inside out.” By leading with an unwavering drive to instill design excellence and best practices, Rothenberg has been a guiding force in shaping California’s public realm through her work as the senior program manager for the state’s courthouse building program. Her leadership has influenced countless institutional campuses and buildings across the country, demonstrating that public architecture can improve the lives of citizens who rely on it.

Rothenberg’s early career was focused on legal research and teaching, after which she earned her master of architecture degree from the University of California at Berkeley. She spent time in private practice focused on educational, office, and military projects before the chief justice of California called on her to spearhead the development of a 57-courthouse capital outlay plan. Since stepping into the role of lead senior capital program manager for the Judicial Council of California, Rothenberg has overseen two major capital campaigns that total more than $10 billion and has worked with architectural firms to deliver work for the nation’s largest judiciary. As the program’s lead staff architect in its flagship San Francisco office, Rothenberg chartered the program’s funding, structure, and staffing to create the resulting court architecture program.

For more than a decade, Rothenberg levied her keen understanding of design excellence in securing a range of firms to serve the court building program. Conceived of and initiated in 10 phases from 2002 to 2012, nearly 75 firms were retained and 50 were selected to work on the 57 major capital projects detailed in the plan.

Rothenberg’s ideals have resulted in award-winning projects, such as the 11-story San Bernardino Justice Center, the first landmark-quality project produced by the Judicial Council’s recognized Trial Court Design Standards. The center, with 34 courtrooms and two hearing rooms, replaced an aged, non-secure facility for one of California’s largest jurisdictions, providing nearly 2.5 million residents access to safe and beautiful facilities. Situated near a fault line, the courthouse is resilient both structurally and environmentally and achieved LEED Gold certification.

Having fully embraced the role of citizen architect, Rothenberg is a member of her local city planning board and has previously held leadership roles on the board and building committee for her neighborhood’s local schools and community centers. Her service to the community extends beyond architecture, and she regularly volunteers to prepare meals for food programs for the homeless in the Bay Area and supports environmental causes including dog training and wild bird rescues.

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