Washington – The Board of Directors of The American Institute of Architects voted today to award the 2012 AIA Gold Medal to Steven Holl, FAIA. 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. Holl will be honored at the 2012 AIA National Convention in Washington, D.C.
Holl and his firm, Steven Holl Architects have completed projects that tackle the urban-scale planning and development conundrums that define success in the built environment throughout the world. He’s able to work with diverse clients to get his projects executed, all while being a tenured professor at Columbia University. His explorations have served as an inspiration to his colleagues.
Holl completed two projects located in China in 2009 that are emblematic of his approach to architecture and his innovative method of design inquiry. His Linked Hybrid, in Beijing, is a series of circularly arranged towers, filled with 700 apartments and enough ancillary programming (hotels, schools, restaurants, park spaces) to form its own micro-urban community. The towers are linked by a system of 20th floor skywalks that trace a ring of public programs. In contrast to the mega-block street walls typically erected by Chinese developers, the Hybrid invites the city in with green space, public programs, and playfully varied porous massing.
The Vanke Center in Shenzhen is quite literally a horizontal skyscraper: a long rectilinear mass tipped on its side with arms and branches reaching out from its main stem. Holl’s building hovers above garden and park spaces on eight legs, creating a shaded micro-climate and quality public outdoor space that’s sorely lacking in developing-world cities. Making the building co-exist with the green space below necessitated that this developing nation take a fundamental symbol of its burgeoning prosperity--a new shimmering high rise tower--and tip it on its side. Such depth of inquiry and lack of presupposition in Holl’s work makes this kind of audacious gambit almost common in his buildings.
In addition to China, Holl’s work can be seen across the United States and Europe. Examples of his work include:
- The Nelson Atkins Museum Bloch Building in Kansas City, Mo., a subterranean art museum expansion that pierces the ground plane with five translucent boxes that materialize light like blocks of ice.
- Simmons Hall in Cambridge, Mass., a dormitory that Holl used to develop his ideas about urban porosity, later seen in his Chinese projects. Based around the conceptual motif of a sponge, the building features irregular volumetric gaps and transparencies, as well as vertical, funnel-shaped incisions that act as light and air chimneys.
- Knut Hamsun Center in Norway, a historical museum honoring the Norwegian writer that takes cues from Hamsun’s work to create a wooded vernacular-referenced façade pierced by walkways and glass observation decks, literary symbols of hidden impulses.
- Department of Philosophy in New York City, which redesigns the interior of a historic masonry building and inserts an open six-story light shaft, taking formal and conceptual guidance from the work of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
- Institute’s Higgins Hall Insertion, an addition to Pratt’s architecture school, in New York City, that joins two red brick buildings with a glowing bar-shaped volume of varying transparency and opacity.
“What, in my view, especially commends him as a candidate for the Gold Medal,” wrote Harry Cobb, FAIA, of Pei Cobb Freed, in a recommendation letter, “is his brilliantly demonstrated capacity to join his refined design sensibility to a rigorously exploratory theoretical project.”
Holl is the 68th 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), Santiago Calatrava (2005), Glenn Murcutt (2009, and Fumihiko Maki (2011)). 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