When I read that Moshe Safdie had been awarded the 2015 Gold Medal by the American Institute of Architects, I groaned online. AIA members, I think you need to ask yourselves: “Does the AIA represent me?” Why? Because after tiptoeing toward the future, American architecture’s professional organisation seemed to have reverted to an old playbook. At a moment when some pundits are arguing that architects are bad listeners, while others question the limits of their ethics, and critics and curators find themselves focusing, more and more, on things built that aren’t buildings, choosing Safdie, and releasing the inane #ilookup video, neither rallies the troops nor sells architecture to the wider public. What would? I don’t know, but I think leadership begins by looking within.
2014 was the first year that the AIA Gold Medal could be awarded to two individuals, after a rapid 2013 campaign to amend the rules following the uproar over Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James’s petition to award Denise Scott Brown the Pritzker Prize – 22 years after partner and husband Robert Venturi won it alone.
The 2014 Gold Medal went to Julia Morgan – the first-ever to a woman, albeit one who had been dead for 56 years (previous posthumous medals, for Samuel Mockbee and Eero Saarinen, were given closer to those architects’ deaths). Morgan is certainly deserving, but then as now, I thought it was an easy choice, avoiding the politics of choosing a living, breathing woman architect before her male peers.