The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has announced two recipients of the 2013 Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture. In category one, the institute recognized Michael Pyatok, FAIA, of Oakland’s Pyatok Architects, as an architect who has dedicated his career to the theory and practice of public housing design. And, in category three, Ginnie Cooper, Chief Librarian and Executive Director of the District of Columbia Public Libraries, has been honored for spearheading the recent renaissance in library construction and renovation in the nation’s capital.
This year’s award recipients will be honored and receive their awards at the 2013 AIA National Convention and Design Exposition in Denver.
The Thomas Jefferson Award recognizes excellence in architectural advocacy and achievement in three categories: Private-sector architects who have established a portfolio of accomplishment in the design of architecturally distinguished public facilities (category 1); public-sector architects who manage or produce quality design within their agencies (category 2); and public officials or other individuals who by their role of advocacy have furthered the public’s awareness and/or appreciation of design excellence (category 3).
Category One: Michael Pyatok, FAIA
Pyatok grew up in a tenement in an industrial district of Brooklyn, N.Y., and he developed an early interest in low-income and affordable housing. He earned a bachelor’s of architecture from Pratt and a master’s of architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and later, between 1966 and 1984, he worked for several firms in Baltimore, New York, Helsinki, and California, where he eventually settled.
In 1984, he founded Pyatok Architects after completing a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard, where he studied housing policy and the role of design in shaping low-income communities. By the time he launched his firm, Pyatok had developed a strong belief in the importance of well-designed affordable and low-income housing.
An early advocate for density, mixed uses, and proximity to transit and services in low-income communities, Pyatok developed site planning and design strategies to create “cozy communities,” or intimate groupings of neighbors that foster social cohesion among at-risk households.
His approach was quickly recognized as a national model, and in 1995 the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the AIA awarded him grants to write a book about the design of government assisted housing. The book, which he co-authored with Tom Jones and William Pettus, is titled Good Neighbors: The Design of Affordable Family Housing, and it is used as a standard by affordable housing developers across the U.S.
Today, with a staff of 25, he has designed more than 35,000 dwellings in hundreds of public projects in the United States. He also has master planned more than 5,000 dwellings in low-income communities in the Philippines and Malaysia. Pyatok’s work has been recognized with more than 150 design awards. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae, and the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials have all recognized his contributions to the design of publicly assisted housing and neighborhood redevelopment.
Category Three: Ginnie Cooper
As the leader of the District of Columbia Public Libraries, Cooper is credited for the recent renaissance in library construction and renovation in the nation’s capital.
After earning a master’s in library science from the University of Minnesota, Cooper began her career in 1970 as a librarian in a suburban district in Washington County, Minn. From there she went on to take the reins of several large library systems across the country, including Brooklyn Public Library and its 59 neighborhood branches and Multnomah County Library in Portland, Ore., the largest library in the state.
In July 2006, Cooper joined the District of Columbia Public Library as chief librarian
and executive director. She was charged with transforming the public library at a time when its building stock was “in ruins, and scheduled replacements were uninspired,” according to the nomination letter written by Jonathan Penndorf, AIA, President of AIA D.C.
Key to Cooper’s success in D.C. was her ability to attract well-known architects who designed iconic buildings that stood as community beacons. “Our public buildings were one of our proudest achievements, and now Ms. Cooper has revived that tradition for a new century,” Penndorf wrote. Among the firms Cooper has retained for the overhaul of D.C.’s libraries are London-based Adjaye Associates, The Freelon Group, based in Durham, N.C., New York-based Davis Brody Bond, and several firms based in Washington, D.C., including CORE, Bell Architects, and Wiencek + Associates.
Cooper’s approach has resulted in buildings that the community has noticed and embraced. “In a city filled with federal memorials and museums, she has created a series of local landmarks that are both architectural achievements and an enormous source of community pride,” wrote Tommy Wells, Washington, D.C., councilmember and chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation, and Planning.
Last year’s recipients: Alexander Cooper, FAIA, Daniel Feil, FAIA, and Robert Peck, Hon. AIA. More information here.
Biographies via the AIA.