For the most part architecture's awards season proceeds with significantly less attention and controversy than Hollywood's. This year is a bit different, though, thanks to the announcement earlier this month that the American Institute of Architects would not be giving out a Twenty-Five Year Award for 2018.
The award is not perfect. The jury picks the winner each year from a pool of buildings that for the most part have been nominated by the firms that produced them. This means big, successful offices with healthy marketing and public-relations staffs have outsize success. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill has won the award six times, most recently for the firm's 1981 airport terminal in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
That nominating process seemed to be part of the problem this year. The eight-member jury (all practicing architects) simply couldn't agree that any of the nominated buildings was deserving, which may have been because the pool was small. In a statement, the AIA said jurors "felt that there were submissions that appeal to architects and there were those that appeal to the public. The consensus was that the Twenty-five Year Award should appeal to both."
In a way this indecision is hardly shocking. The 1980s and early '90s were a transitional period in architecture and in some ways a fallow one. Post-modernism was enjoying an unsteady reign in those years. Having finally toppled corporate modernism — and thus having been robbed of a villain to help inspire new work — the movement was having trouble figuring out what kinds of landmarks to produce on its own terms.
At the same time, those 10 years saw the rise of emerging talents including Steven Holl, Michael Graves and many others. And it was a particularly vital time in Los Angeles architecture, which is one reason you'll see so many Southern California projects on the list I've put together below.
Whatever we make of the decade in question, I think the award is important and anticipated enough that the jury ought to have tried harder — ought to have asked for more time or for the ability to choose a building that hadn't been nominated. Or even to bend the rules a bit, making demolished or temporary buildings eligible. (You'll see examples of both on my list.) The importance of the Twenty-Five Year Award, after all, seems all the more obvious in a world of hot takes and constant churn.
In that spirit I set a challenge for myself: Could I come up not just with one but with 25 buildings that might have deserved the award this year? It took me a few days — and I was helped by some terrific suggestions from architects, critics and historians on Twitter and elsewhere online — but in the end finding 25 wasn't that difficult.