The American Institute of Architects have presented its 25 Year Award since 1969 to honor a building that’s been around for 25 to 35 years; so not THAT old for buildings, however by our traditional standards can seem pretty old by our contemporary points-of-view. The AIA uses this award to recognize buildings with “enduring significance” that have “stood the test of time.” Some of the buildings that were recipients include the Seagram Building in 1984, the Salk Institute in 1990, and the Airforce Academy Cadet Chapel, the General Motors Technical Center, and the Eames House have all won the award, as well. This year’s winner, though, is less of a BUILDING, and more of a whole SERIES of BUILDINGS, as the D.C. Metro, designed by Chicago architect Harry Weese, took the honors for 2014.
When you really start thinking about why the AIA’s 25 Year Award went to a subway system rather than a buildings, it becomes simpler to understand why. First off, the stations in the system present the same amazing Brutalist refinement of Weese’s Metro stations—consisting of precast concrete vaults, futuristic lighting, and hushed high-tech systems —and the fact that the Brutalist-style is still popular among current architects who weren’t even alive when Weese was working. Second, in the early 1970s, Weese thought ahead in his buildings by creating a modular kit-of parts that would just benefit the design of the five D.C. Metro stations that would open in 1976, but also served as the modular kit for the 78 other stations that had been designed and erected since, even after Weese’s death. Long story short, it’s like a contemporary architect designing a building based on the plans of an architect from the late 1960s and 70s…because the plans STILL WORK!
While I understand giving awards to new buildings to recognize contemporary architects, celebrate our peers, and generate publicity and interest in the field of architecture and design, I would love to see more buildings that are still great after 40 or 50 years get some recognition too.