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maine chapter, 2010 american institute of architects awards

The stellar cover article in this month’s Maine Home + Design tells part of the story of a just-complete eighteen-month project, which took almost as much focus as the design of a significant house, and was equally rewarding.  It began with an invitation to chair the 2010 Maine AIA Awards Program, certainly an honor and a responsibility.  Little did I know. . . .

It happened just as I was committing more professional energy in California, but it felt like a wonderful cap on almost two decades of emphasis in Maine.  It was stimulating, and it was a challenge taking me out of my established role into the world of boards, fundraising, event planning, graphic design, favor-asking, schlepping and cheerleading.  The hours piled up, the list of what needed to get done seemed only to get longer, and sometimes I wondered if we would pull it off at all.  I was often reminded of how much good work gets done in this country by people who donate time and services.  There is no way it could have been accomplished without many dedicated and ambitious people helping.

Maine’s Design Awards are a biennial program, and architects throughout the state are invited to submit built work for a juried competition.  For the architects, submitting is a significant commitment because it’s time-consuming and requires a rigorous submittal format, but it’s recognized it as the primary means—in a rural and spread-out state—to see each other’s work.

Among many tasks, two that were my favorite parts of the job were finding a venue for the awards event and finding a jury who would choose winners two months before the actual Awards Ceremony.  After scouring the state for interesting buildings and spaces, we settled on a huge loft space in a complex of 19th century brick industrial buildings on Portland’s working waterfront.  Run down, raw, even a bit grimy, but with huge wood beams and thick brick walls that only an architect could love.  A Maine-based tensile-fabric installation company provided acres of white sculptural panels in the space on which all the work was displayed and which created a space-within-a-space.  The event itself was swanky in a bohemian sort of way, with great food and tech support.

The all-Seattle jury fell into place quite nicely, and met over two months before the actual Awards Ceemony.  As part of the desire to make the whole Awards Program greener this year (including requiring all entries to submit sustainability metrics on their projects), we brought the submittals to the jurors rather than having jurors come from across the country to view the submittals.  This also meant that we more easily found exceptional jurors who would give up a half-day in their hometown, if not three days traveling to and from Maine.  We sought out a very diverse jury; the choice of Seattle was somewhat incidental.  Lead juror was Tom Kundig, of Olson Kundig Architects.  Already a bit of an architectural rock star, his reputation continues to grow because of his consistent and distinctive architectural voice.  Second was Jim Cutler, of Cutler Anderson Architects, almost an icon of American architecture at this point in his career.  Third, Annie Han of Lead Pencil Studio, a trained architect, who with her husband does bold, experimental installations that blur boundaries of art and architecture.  Fourth, Jim Dow, a partner in construction firm Schucart/Dow, who has an amazing eye for excellence in design and brings the builder’s perspective to the table.

I was present for the jury, although I didn’t contribute—simply recording and answering any questions they had.  This was especially important because although I didn’t enter any projects from Bruce Norelius Studio, my old firm had two submissions, and I wanted to distance myself from those projects during the jury.  The jury was measured and deliberate, and their decision-making process was very consensual.  In the end, they gave awards to seven projects; the honor award was given to my old firm for a beautiful house recently finished on Casco Bay.

All in all, something for which I’m honored and proud to have served.  See all the entries on the Maine AIA website at http://www.aiamaine.org/awards2010/.