Joann Le AIA
Dave Otte AIA
Brian Cavanaugh AIA
Architecture Building Culture
JoAnn Wilcox AIA
This year we saw 134 projects that were submitted by Massachusetts architects working anywhere in the world and architects from anywhere in the world working in Massachusetts. The sole criterion was design excellence.
The overall body of work was competent, though given the reputation of the Boston Society of Architects, we were surprised to find so few clear examples of design excellence. In general, we noted a classical approach that seemed very “east coast.”
Building typology and scale varied widely, though there was a pronounced lack of houses. Many large projects (institutional, multi-use housing, healthcare) didn’t make it through the first round because it was hard to find the concepts embedded in these complex programs. This may not represent flawed design. Though innovative ideas around operations and functions can emerge, most architects working with big, intensely program-driven projects can’t be primarily interested in pushing boundaries, they need to deliver. The number of infrastructure projects was refreshing, but we wished we’d discovered more “sublime jewels” among the smaller projects.
Design excellence cannot be measured unless a clear concept is expressed, first as an idea, and then through the use of craft and thoughtful materiality that is not budget dependent. We bridled when we saw high-end finishes standing in for sophisticated design. The best materiality felt worn, with attention to patina, aging, and how things are put together. When the relationship between indoors and outdoors was well-articulated, we noticedS. And we loved the use of light—which is free—to carve and elevate space.
To future submitters to this program, we suggest that you clearly state the concept, themes, and design philosophy–and then curate your images (we will only see 20 or so) and bullet points to back it up. Images won’t help if they contradict or detract from the central idea. Make a case for why your project deserves an award, but don’t try to blind us with an excess of detail. Walk us through what’s pertinent. If your project is a renovation, make sure we know what’s old versus what’s new.
Nine projects emerged as winners, and represent a wide range of building types, programs, and budgets. While we agreed that architecture is about buildings and spaces, we could not help but frame our discussion around the craft IN architecture. Each of the awarded projects reflects a high degree of it. Three of these projects we cited specifically for craft—not design—and should be understood together, as examples of the powerful relationship between architects and artisans.
We were delighted at this opportunity to see this work from our New England colleagues and want to thank the Boston Society of Architects for the opportunity.