The scholar, activist, and architect Sharon Egretta Sutton, FAIA, has won the 2023 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education. The award "honors an individual who has been intensely involved in architecture education for more than a decade and whose teaching has influenced a broad range of students," according to an AIA press release. Sutton is currently distinguished visiting professor of Architecture at Parsons School of Design, adjunct professor at Columbia University, and professor emerita at the University of Washington. Since 1975, she has shaped several generations of students during appointments at Pratt Institute, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Michigan.
In 1976, Sutton was the 12th African American woman to be licensed to practice architecture. In 1994, she was the first to be promoted to full professor of architecture. The following year, she was the second to be elected a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects.
Her six books includeWhen Ivory Towers Were Black (Fordham University Press, 2017) and the forthcoming Pedagogy for a Beloved Commons: Pursuing Democracy’s Promise Through Place-Based Activism (Fordham University Press, 2023) which “offers a game plan for students and other hopeful citizen architects to learn and use practical skills to continue her vital work,” according to AIA.
Sutton holds five academic degrees—in music, architecture, philosophy, and psychology. Early in her career, Dr. Sutton worked as a professional musician in New York, which included playing more than 1,000 performances in the original production of Man of La Mancha.
Sutton received the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award from AIA in 2011.
“It resonates with me that Dr. Sutton’s career has not been about towers or iconic buildings; it has rather been about people,” wrote Sarah Akigbogun, founder of XXAOC and vice chair for Women in Architecture, in a statement supporting Sutton's nomination. “She has applied her expertise in architectural design processes to help empower communities such as those in post-industrial Detroit.” Akigbogun continues in her nominating letter: “In choosing disenfranchised people as her focus, she has developed practices which are not just relevant now, but are critical to a future which encompasses design justice.”
The winner of the 2023 Topaz Medallion was chosen by a five-member person jury encompassing two ACSA-appointed educators, one student appointed by the AIAS, and two members from the AIA Board of Directors or Strategic Council. This year's jury comprised chair Kirk Narburgh, FAIA, King + King Architects in Syracuse, N.Y.; Karen Lu, AIA, Snow Kreilich Architects in Minneapolis; Cooper Moore, Assoc. AIA, AIAS, Erie, Pa.; Igor Marjanovic, Rice University in Houston; and Jennifer Yoos, FAIA, University of Minnesota, Minn.
This article has been updated.