Going to the AIA/LA Design Awards is a totally different experience when you’ve been on the jury, as I was this year. For one, you get to see the entire spectrum of the awards program, the behind-the-scenes production and the staging of what seemed like a thousand projects flashing before you in a darkened room. Not only do you have the heavy responsibility of judging all of these, but also you then have to champion and defend the ones that really speak to you. There was a lot of debate and discussion—and even some yelling and throwing of chairs involved. And probably way too much caffeine.
The best part about being on the jury was to finally see and meet the people behind all the winning entries, whether unbuilt Next LA projects, where propositions about cities and buildings moved the bar a few notches higher, or the built projects that make people think twice about what architecture is and can be, was gratifying beyond simple description.
Of course, in the back of my mind, were all those projects that didn’t make the cut, some of my personal favorites. Overall, what I came away with was an excitement about the state of architecture right now. While it might seem obvious, the awards remind you that there are so many different ways of thinking about and doing this, so many ways of shaping environments that impact people on multiple levels.
From the awards ceremony at the Aratani Theater in Little Tokyo, the crowd shuttled and walked—I think Alissa Walker, winner of the Design Advocate Award, did in fact walk—to the dinner reception at the A+D Museum’s new digs in the adjacent Arts District.
If I had to measure the awards in decibels, the loudest cheers and applause definitely went to Sarah Lorenzen, Chair at Cal Poly Pomona, who won the Educator Award. “I guess it’s good to be a teacher,” joked AIA/LA president Ted Hyman of ZGF Architects, who presented the Presidential Awards.
One of the best moments of the night had to have been Steven Ehrlich’s heartfelt and genuine speech after he was presented with the Gold Medal. He spoke to the core of the discipline and profession. “At every step in my practice I’ve been blessed with the most talented and congenial collaborators and courageous clients that anyone could wish for,” said Ehrlich. His speech was all about “we.” And truly, that’s what design is all about.