2018 AIA Gold Medal awarded to James Stewart Polshek, NA

The New York-based architect, James Stewart Polshek, NA is being recognized for his career-long focus on design, collaboration, and research.

James Stewart Polshek was elected as a National Academician ANA: 1983; NA: 1994


 Aislinn Weidele

Aislinn Weidele

James Stewart Polshek, NA, FAIA, has been awarded the 2018 AIA Gold Medal, the Institute’s highest honor for an individual or pair of collaborators whose work has had a lasting influence on the state of architecture. Earlier today, the American Institute of Architects board of directors voted to honor Polshek for his visionary leadership, which has focused on combining design excellence with research and collaboration to produce lasting architecture that continues to influence the built environment.

 William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little rock, Ark., completed in 2004.

William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little rock, Ark., completed in 2004.

Polshek was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1930, and earned a Master of Architecture from Yale University in 1955. He worked in New York—for I.M. Pei, FAIA, among others—before starting his own firm in the city, James Stewart Polshek Architect, in 1963. Over the last 54 years, his firm—which was rebranded most recently as Ennead Architects in 2010—has carried out countless projects, with a particular focus on cultural and restoration work, as well as education, civic, and commercial spaces. All told, the firm’s work has garnered more than 200 design awards, 15 national AIA Honor Awards, and the 1992 AIA Architecture Firm Award (as James Stewart Polshek and Partners).

 American Museum of Natural History’s Rose Center for Earth and Space, New York, completed in 2000.

American Museum of Natural History’s Rose Center for Earth and Space, New York, completed in 2000.

While continuing to lead his practice, Polshek also served as the dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation from 1972 to 1987, and oversaw a revision of the school’s curriculum. And his commitment to research and collaborative thinking can be seen clearly in projects such as his 1987 renovation of New York’s Carnegie Hall. That project included the restoration of many of the hall’s original details, the integration of contemporary technologies, and a master plan that became a case study for helping to ensure the continued success of landmarked buildings that had come under siege from changing market pressures. Polshek’s approach to design, which includes a thoughtful use of transparency and opacity of form, has been showcased in projects such as the American Museum of Natural History’s Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York (2000); the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark. (2004); the Newseum in Washington, D.C. (2008); and the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia (2010).

"James Stewart Polshek has had a remarkably generous career—he has empowered generations of students through Columbia University, which he made a significant impact on, and also through his practice, which has brought together talented architects and allowed them to do their very best work," says AIA's executive vice president and CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA. "In his own role as an architect, critic, and teacher, that studio has now grown and flourished so his legacy is broad. It isn’t only his individual design work, which is excellent, but the generosity of his academic spirit that has imbued an entire office and inspired other people to do their best."

 Newseum, Washington, D.C., completed in 2008.

Newseum, Washington, D.C., completed in 2008.

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

"It's been a 55 year trip...and I'm not done yet," Polshek said in response to his win.

 Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, New York, completed 2017.

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, New York, completed 2017.

The 2018 AIA Gold Medal jury included chair Jonathan Penndorf, FAIA, of Perkins+Will in Washington, D.C.; David Greenbaum, FAIA, of SmithGroupJJR in Washington, D.C.; Alan Greenberger, FAIA, of Drexel University in Philadelphia; Wendy Hillis, AIA, of Tulane University in New Orleans; Thierry Paret, FAIA, of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology; Karina Ruiz of DOWA-IBI Group in Portland, Ore.; Moshe Safdie, FAIA, of Safdie Architects in Somerville, Mass. (himself the recipient of the 2015 AIA Gold Medal); and Takashi Yanai, FAIA, of Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects in Culver City, Calif.

The AIA Gold Medal will be conferred at the AIA Conference on Architecture 2018 in New York in June, where Polshek will join the ranks of previous AIA Gold Medal recipients, including Paul Revere Williams (who last year was the first African-American to receive the honor); Robert Venturi, FAIA, and Denise Scott Brown, Hon. FAIA(who in 2016 were the first pair to win the AIA Gold Medal concurrently); Julia Morgan (who in 2014 was the first woman to win the AIA Gold Medal); Thom Mayne, FAIA (2013); Steven Holl, FAIA (2012); Fumihiko Maki, Hon. FAIA (2011); and Peter Bohlin, FAIA (2010); among many others.