Posted on December 4, 2014
As radiators creak and moan, the music of bagpipes drifts up through the window that is opened in a failed attempt to balance the heat, controlled from some unknown distant source. The jury gathers in the large empty room of classical proportion around an enormous table covered in black binders- hundreds of black binders. These binders represented the best of the best; work from those that were drawn to New York to make their mark on the world. As it has been said, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.,” and this body of work expressed the seriousness of their lofty goals. Our judgment as jurors could mean the affirmation of a single designer, or firm, as a dominant leader in the field, or it may signal the emergence of a talent that has yet to be recognized and serve to launch a long and prosperous career.
Known as the Stanford White Awards, after the designer that marked McKim, Mead & White as the most transformative architectural firm that America had (or has) ever seen, our responsibilities in forming a tradition of excellence in The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art design awards program for the New York Chapter weighed on us all.
The first day was spent going through the numerous categories, from architecture, to interiors, to artisanship, to garden design. One by one, descriptions were read, drawings studied and photography analyzed for consistency, design integrity, academic knowledge and execution, design talent – and even, if I can call it this, bravery. One by one, aspirations were eliminated, hopes denied.
The first day was easy- eliminate those who had never understood the diligence of their peers. Those who were careless with their details or proportions, those that spoke no authentic language, or those who just simply followed the trends of the day were set aside. This eliminated approximately one-third of the entrants.
“Many times excellence is achieved when every project is considered preparation for the time when the perfect client; the perfect conditions; the once in a lifetime project comes along. Then with the practice of the many years and the many projects before, can you be prepared to achieve excellence when the opportunity for something truly great on a grand scale is presented.”
On the second day, we were left with the other two-thirds of the entrants; those who understood excellence and whose projects were now a real consideration. Here, our task became much more difficult. There was no more brushing aside folders as before and time slowed as we now studied each category multiple times to dissimulate the differences between, not just good and better, but best. After arduous hours, the jury now compared notes and we narrowed our focus on those that had all fallen into our best category. A few were clearly outstanding from their peers, but most inspired vigorous debate- jurors sparring for that which they felt gave merit above all others –seeking ways to defend, or scrutinizing the merest flaws. In a few cases we found ourselves in the unfortunate position of selecting a winner between two obviously deserving projects- projects that were unassailable. Yet, only one must be chosen. In the end, the awards went to those that possessed a rare and unique spirit and to those that advanced the ideals of how the traditional language of architecture could be advanced in a modern world, giving it voice and meaning for the future.
One of the most rewarding and inspiring roles I may have as a designer is to be a juror for a design award. As I find myself on the design jury circuit, I am continually reminded of what it takes to be excellent; to be relevant; to be profound. As I take these lessons back to my own studio, we go to work even harder than before in preparation for that one rare opportunity to achieve an excellence we can call our own.