Composing a jury is a bit like performing alchemy: You gather a series of industry luminaries from different backgrounds and areas of expertise, put them together in a room, and sit back, fingers crossed, hoping that everyone will get along. Thankfully, this year’s jury—which included Martina Decker, Gordon Gill, AIA, and Jinhee Park, AIA, and who you can see below—clicked immediately, coming together with a single-minded focus on finding solutions that can immediately solve problems that confront architects all the time. In other words, pragmatism was the order of the day.

With new construction still crawling (a look at the precipitous fall in May’s Architecture Billings Index bears that out), this jury wasn’t looking for beautiful one-off projects. They were looking for technical solutions to real-world problems—solutions that can be deployed industry wide. “Is it scalable?” and “Is it reproducible?” were questions that Gill asked multiple times during the daylong deliberations. And the winners—which include a modular classroom, a noninvasive solar-panel support, hardware that eases the installation of reveal-edge base details, and a ventilation system for gas fireplaces that reduces the likelihood of burn injuries—all answer the call.

“Research and development doesn’t necessarily mean that you invent something perfectly new,” Decker said, synthesizing the jury’s thesis. Sometimes it’s “being able to do something that we’ve been able to do before, but now, we have a new elegance to it.” And while the winners that follow might not seem, at first glance, like the flashiest of innovations, they do call to mind the tagline first associated with this program six years ago: Geek is good.

Jury members (left to right): Gordon Gill; Jinhee Park; Martina Decker
Eli Kaplan Jury members (left to right): Gordon Gill; Jinhee Park; Martina Decker

The Jury

Gordon Gill
A founding partner of Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, Gordon Gill, AIA, is a leading practitioner in performance-based design. His work includes many of the world’s largest buildings such as Pearl River Tower, the first net-zero-energy skyscraper, and the 1-kilometer-tall Kingdom Tower. Gill, also a co-founder of the consulting firm PositivEnergy Practice, counts among his many accolades an AIA Honor Award for Regional & Urban Design for the Chicago Central Area Decarbonization Plan, which also won a 2010 R+D Award.

Jinhee Park
AIA Young Architects Award recipient Jinhee Park, AIA, is a founding principal of Cambridge, Mass.–based SsD, the 2012 recipient of the Emerging Voices Award from the Architectural League of New York, and a winner of 10 AIA chapter awards, including one for the Big Dig House in Greater Boston. Currently a design critic at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, her alma mater, Park focuses on the convergence of aesthetics and sustainability in her work, which includes cultural, residential, furniture, urban design, and research projects.

Martina Decker
With a list of projects bearing such names as Carbon Nanotubes, Shape Memory Alloys, and Wet Artificial Muscles, Martina Decker redefines building technology. A partner at New York–based Decker Yeadon, an architectural research firm that explores emergent, smart, and nano materials, Decker has been a critic and instructor at Cornell University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Her award-winning work in architecture, art, and consumer products is often featured in publications, including the forthcoming book Performative Materials in Architecture and Design (Intellect, 2012).