Today, the MacArthur Foundation announced the 23 recipients of their 2016 MacArthur Fellowship Grants, which are awarded annually “to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations.” Each fellowship comes with a stipend of $625,000 for the recipients to use for individual pursuits, paid out in equal quarterly installments over a five year period. Fellows are selected based on 3 criteria: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.
This year’s fellows include artists, playwrights, geobiologists, poets, jewelrymakers, novelists and historians, but, for the fifth straight year, no architects. In the program’s 36 year history, just 6 recipients have come from architecture-related fields.
1981 - Ada Louise Huxtable, architectural critic and historian
By 1981, Huxtable was already well-known for her impassioned opinion and critical voice as the New York Times’ resident architecture critic, having won the first ever Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1970. But it was being named a MacArthur fellow that solidified her role in bringing architectural criticism to the masses – after receiving the award, architectural criticism was picked up by all the biggest newspapers and regularly awarded with Pulitzer Prizes.
“Before Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture was not a part of the public dialogue,” her successor at the Times, Paul Goldberger said in 1996.
Founding their practice in 1979, Diller and Scofidio’s early career focused largely on installations, performance pieces and unbuilt works that united design, performance and electronic media with architectural theory. Upon awarding the duo with the fellowship in 1999, the MacArthur Foundation noted, “Their work explores how space functions in our culture and illustrates that architecture, when understood as the physical manifestation of social relationships, is everywhere, not just in buildings.”
During their fellowship period, Diller and Scofidio created some of their landmark built works, including the Blur Building at the Swiss Expo in 2002. Since then, the studio (along with Charles Renfro, who joined as partner in 2004) has grown into one of the most influential firms in practice today.
2000 - Samuel Mockbee, architect
On awarding Mockbee a fellowship grant in 2000, the MacArthur Foundation referred to him as “an architect who erased the boundary between experimental design and social consciousness.”
As co-founder of Auburn University’s Rural Studio, Mockbee combined architectural education with public service, bringing students to one of the country’s poorest counties in Alabama to create revolutionary, budget-conscious buildings from non-traditional materials that could be used by real people in need.
Sadly, a year after becoming a fellow, Mockbee passed away following a long battle with leukemia. Mockbee was posthumously awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 2004.
2008 - John Ochsendorf, engineer and architectural historian
Ochsendorf is a structural engineer and historian who has used his background to explore alternative engineering solutions from traditional architects. His studies have included investigations into the hand-woven fiber suspension bridges of the Incan Empire, ancient rope-weaving techniques, suspensions and cable-stayed bridges in Japan, and identifying the causes of vault and buttress failures in French and Spanish Romanesque churches
Said the MacArthur Foundation, “While conducting structural assessments of historic monuments around the world, Ochsendorf develops new methods for establishing the stability of ancient buildings and draws important lessons from them that will guide the construction of more efficient architecture in the future.”
2011 - Jeanne Gang, architect
Jeanne Gang was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2011, one year after finishing her most well-known project, Aqua Tower in Chicago.
“Always responsive to the specific geography, social and environmental context, and purpose of each project, Gang creates bold yet functional forms for residential, educational, and commercial buildings,” said the MacArthur Foundation on her nomination.
Now in the final year of her fellowship, her firm’s current and recent projects include Vista Tower in Chicago, the US Embassy in Brasilia and Polis Station, a prototype for a community inclusive police campus.