At the latest American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Convention, held in Denver this year, the AIA Board of Directors voted to revise eligibility for the AIA Gold Medal to include two individuals working together. In its press release Thursday, the AIA revealed it could bestow the award on two individuals in the case that "their collaborative efforts over time are recognized as having created a singular body of distinguished architectural work." Previously only a single individual could be awarded the Gold Medal, and the new criteria is carefully worded to distinguish it from the AIA Firm Award that is presented to a practice as a whole.
The move is explained by AIA President Mickey Jacob as long-due acknowledgement for the collaborative nature of practice, yet its timing is a clear nod to the recent debate over the recognition of female architects in headline-grabbing awards. Beginning with remarks by Denise Scott Brown on being snubbed in the Pritzker Prize awarded to her partner and husband Robert Venturi, the controversy spread beyond industry press and into the larger public's knowledge through a petition for her inclusion started by Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James, two students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Indeed, the initiative within the professional organization was started by the AIA's New York chapter, whose current president Jill N. Lerner found inspiration from the petition's authors.
In coverage of the Pritzker petition Ms. Scott Brown has shared publicly that her submissions for the AIA Gold Medal with Mr. Venturi had been returned multiple times in the past because they were for the two of them. While the current Pritzker jury ultimately rejected that the decision on the 1991 Prize could be revisited, the AIA's action now opens the door for architects working in similar creative partnerships as Ms. Scott Brown and Mr. Venturi to be recognized together for its own high honor. To be noted though, no women have yet received an AIA Gold Medal in its 106 years of existence.
Nominations are currently open through July 12 for the 2014 Gold Medal, but the change will not go into effect until the start of next year. Still, the decision by the AIA to recognize joint achievement as eligible for its highest honor is a step in the right direction toward reflecting the diversity of members and modes in architectural practice today.