Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam's Clayton County Headquarters Library in Jonesboro, Ga.
Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam's Clayton County Headquarters Library in Jonesboro, Ga.

The AIA launched its annual Twenty-Five Year Award back in 1969. The winner, Rockefeller Center in New York, was an august choice, the first in a long line of individual buildings that, in the opinions of successive juries (composed largely of architects), have stood the test of time. Last month, however, the AIA announced that the 2018 jury had chosen not to name a recipient—an unprecedented occurrence in the history of the program. Not surprisingly, eyebrows were raised.

As explanation, the AIA provided the following: “The jury felt that there were submissions that appeal to architects and there were those that appeal to the public. The consensus was that the Twenty-Five Year Award should appeal to both. Unfortunately, this year the jury did not find a submission that it felt achieved twenty-five years of exceptional aesthetic and cultural relevance while also representing the timelessness and positive impact the profession aspires to achieve.”

Reactions on social media were characteristically direct: “No project deserves an AIA 25 year award this year,” an incredulous Keelan Kaiser, AIA, wrote on Twitter. “I call that a jury fail. You had one job …” Some called the decision a slight against Postmodernism, which was putatively the dominant style during the window of eligibility for the award.

The rules for the award aren’t complicated. There’s one winner per year; the project must be 25 to 35 years old, have been designed by a licensed U.S. architect, and be in substantially unchanged condition. The nominator must be an AIA member, chapter, or knowledge community. The AIA does not release the nominee’s names, and the jurors have to chose from that pool, so second-guessing the deliberations is largely a matter of speculation.

The editors at the website Curbed compiled a fun list of eight projects that they consider worthy: W.G. Clark and Charles Menefee, AIA’s Inn at Middleton Place in Charleston, S.C.; Michael Graves’ Humana Building in Louisville, Ky.; The Jerde Partnership and Sussman/Prejza’s infrastructure and identity for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles; Philip Johnson and John Burgee, FAIA’s AT&T Building in New York; Charles Moore and Arthur Andersson, FAIA’s Moore/Andersson Compound in Austin, Texas; and Richard Rogers, Hon. FAIA’s PA Technology Center near Princeton, N.J. (Rogers is British, making his work ineligible, but his website does list Douglas Kelbaugh, FAIA’s now-shuttered firm Kelbaugh and Lee as “co-architect” on the job.)

The James R. Thompson Center, Chicago, by Helmut Jahn. 
Roman Boed/Flickr via Creative Commons license The James R. Thompson Center, Chicago, by Helmut Jahn. 

To the Curbed list, I might add Peter Eisenman, FAIA’s Wexner Center for the Visual Arts in Columbus, Ohio; Helmut Jahn, FAIA’s endangered James R. Thompson Center in Chicago; Richard Meier, FAIA’s High Museum of Art in Atlanta; or Mack Scogin, FAIA, and Merrill Elam, FAIA’s underappreciated Clayton County Headquarters Library in Jonesboro, Ga. And I’m just scratching the surface.

It’s frustrating that there aren’t more buildings by women and people of color to chose from—that’s an artifact of the period under consideration, even more than it is today. Still, as design awards go, the Twenty-Five Year is pretty democratic. Any AIA member can nominate a project. So if you’re bothered by this year’s lack of a winner, the best response may be simply to submit your own favorite in 2019.