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Today, The American Institute of Architects named Jennifer Sage, FAIA, and Katie Swenson as the winners of its 2021 AIA Award for Excellence in Public Architecture, honoring both as “individuals who design distinguished public facilities and/or who advocate for design excellence,” according to the Institute's award description.
This year, the Institute dubbed the honor as the Award for Excellence in Public Architecture instead of the AIA Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture to display the organization’s “renewed commitment to equity and justice in the built environment,” according to its press release announcing the winners. The effort is part of the Institute’s ongoing assessment of its awards programs, which began in 2020 after approval from its Board of Directors. In addition to the award names, AIA aims to evaluate the entire awards process to “identify potential implicit and explicit biases” and ultimately “increase the diversity of honors and awards nominees and recipients, as well as future members of the College of Fellows,” according to the same release. AIA plans to complete the awards audit this year. Below is more information on the accomplishments of Sage and Swenson.
A native New Yorker, Jennifer Sage received a B.A. in history from Harvard University and an M.Arch. from Yale University School of Architecture. Sage worked at the global firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, rising to the position of senior associate, before co-founding the New York–based firm Sage and Coombe Architects in 1995. Sage has been integral to the transformation of New York’s public realm through the New York City Department of Design and Construction’s Design Excellence Initiative. In 2004, New York tasked Sage and Coombe along with 24 other private firms with revitalizing the city’s public works. One year later, Sage and Coombe architects was just one of six that ultimately participated in the program.
“The career path of our profession’s best designers, after a few initial public sector projects, too often moves into corporate, developer, and larger scale prestigious nonprofit projects like hospitals, universities and museums,” wrote William Rawn, FAIA, founder of William Rawn Associates in Boston. “What is remarkable about Jennifer Sage’s career and her firm’s output is that it has continued to focus on truly public sector projects for a broad range of public agencies—in such a variety of diverse neighborhoods.”
In addition to teaching and serving on juries at Yale, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Sage served as the 2015 to 2019 vice president for design excellence for AIA New York. She currently co-chairs the exhibitions committee for the Center for Architecture in New York.
Katie Swenson earned a B.A. in comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley and an M.Arch from the University of Virginia School of Architecture. Now a senior principal at MASS Design Group in Boston, Swenson worked as a researcher and educator and became a prominent voice in how design can nurture healthy communities. In 2004, she founded the Charlottesville Community Design Center (now closed). In 2006, she joined Enterprise Community Partners in Boston, rising to become the vice president of design and sustainability. In 2019, the Harvard Graduate School of Design named Swenson a Loeb fellow, recognizing her contributions to “design activism and community design,” according to a Loeb description.
“What makes Katie the ideal candidate for the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture is her profound passion for service by design,” wrote Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, principal and director at HOK in Chicago and the 2018 to 2020 president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, in a letter supporting Swenson’s nomination. “In her work, research, and partnerships, Katie is keenly focused on answering a critical question on behalf of architecture: Who is designing our future and how are they being trained to empower communities?”
Swenson is the co-author of Growing Urban Habitats: Seeking a New Housing Development Model (William Stout Publishers, 2009), the author of In Bohemia, A Memoir of Love, Loss and Kindness (Schiffer, 2020), and the author or Design with Love: At Home in America (Schiffer, 2020).
See more winners of the 2021 AIA Honor Awards here.
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