AIA News
Jerzy Soltan Awarded 2002 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion
Jury calls Le Corbusier protégé "the epitome of the inspirational educator"
by Mike (M.M.M.)* Janes
Director, Media Relations

Architect, educator, and Le Corbusier protégé Jerzy Soltan, whose work has inspired and influenced generations of students in the U.S. and abroad, was named 2002 recipient of the Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education. The award is given annually by the AIA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) to honor an individual who has made outstanding contributions to architectural education for at least 10 years and whose teaching has influenced a broad range of students.

In selecting him for the award, the jury, chaired by Kate Schwennsen, FAIA, called Soltan "the personification" of the award: "Possessing the rare ability to convey the most severe criticism with wit, love, and humility is a rare trait found amongst only the most passionate teachers. Enabling students to envision more than the moment and to reach for something beyond themselves speaks volumes to Professor Soltan as an educator, architect, and person. He is the epitome of the inspirational educator, bringing boundless energy and architectural vision to generations of future practitioners and educators."

Teacher of teachers
With unusual breadth and achievement, Soltan's career spans six decades and four continents. His experience as a student of the legendary Le Corbusier led him to inspire a new generation of students who have become some of the world's most admired designers and teachers:

• In support of his former professor's nomination, Alan Chimacoff, AIA, professor at Princeton University, wrote: "From instinct to erudition, Professor Soltan encompasses thoroughly all the best attributes of architect and teacher. He was the reason I attended Harvard as a graduate student; he remains the best and most powerful memory and influence that I have of the place. Without compromise, Professor Soltan maintained an aspiration for quality and infected his students with the same love and intensity to work, to inquire, to search, to make, to accomplish, to think, and to learn."

• Added Pierre Jampen, SIA, professor of architecture at Université Laval, Quebec, and former student of Soltan: "Having himself been taught be a great teacher, Jerzy Soltan truly knows how to convey the real meaning of architecture while eschewing transitory trends and fashion; his teaching is imbued with the timelessness stature and enduring grace of its greatest examples.

• 2001 AIA Gold Medalist Michael Graves, FAIA, friend and former student of Soltan, stated: "During a time at Harvard when the faculty was somewhat distant and inaccessible, Jerzy Soltan was always the one who provided the humanistic foundation for the school. It was always Professor Soltan whose observations and experience allowed us a level of care that students in the school needed. His great gift was his ability to convey an overview of architecture while addressing the individual needs of his students. Professor Soltan could analyze and decipher the salient points in our work as students and still point out with ease and grace possible alternative directions we could take. That gift is rare among teachers because it requires both extraordinary analytical ability and the inventiveness involved in seeing other routes."

A fascinating foundation
Soltan, who was born in Latvia, attended the Polytechnic Institute of Warsaw, Poland. After completing his studies there in 1939, he joined the Polish army in World War II. He subsequently became a prisoner of war. He made his first contact with Le Corbusier when he was translating Le Corbusier's When the Cathedrals Were White. During his time as a prisoner of war he was able to keep up an extensive correspondence with Le Corbusier, who became his teacher through correspondence.

Following the war, Professor Soltan went to France to work in Le Corbusier's studio, Atelier de Batisseurs, where he participated in such projects as Unite de'Habitation, Saint Die, Saint Gaudens, La Rochelle, Ismir, and the unpublished housing competition in Antonny. He also worked extensively on Le Corbusier's "Modulor," the famed golden module project. During that time, Soltan also studied with the internationally renowned French Cubist Fernand Leger.

After four years with Le Corbusier and in need of a change, Soltan joined the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where he became dean of the architecture program until the political regime changed there in 1951. Although Professor Soltan was able to teach industrial, product, and exhibition design in Poland, he was prevented from teaching architecture, but was allowed to practice it. A subsequent shift in politics permitted him to become the leader of an architecture team to design major works in Poland, including the Sports Center in Warsaw and the Warsaw Railroad Station, both of which won first prizes of the Association of Polish Architects. He also participated in designing the large commercial and administrative center in Olsztyh (formerly Allenstein, East Prussia).

Citizen of the world
In 1959, while still at the Warsaw academy, Soltan began to teach part time at Harvard University at the invitation of former dean, Josep Lluís Sert, who was building a team at Harvard connected with the Le Corbusier side of CIAM (Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne). In 1961-62, while at Harvard, he was appointed professor of architecture, and in 1965 he became a tenured professor. From 1967–74 he was chair of the department of architecture, and in 1975 he served as acting director of the Urban Design Program. In 1976, at the request of Gerald McCue, FAIA, associate dean of the Graduate School of Design and chair of the department of architecture, Soltan served as head of the Appointments and Promotions Committee. In 1979, Professor Soltan retired from Harvard University as professor emeritus.

During his 20 years of intense involvement at the Graduate School of Design, Soltan taught design studios and courses and gave seminars on the Le Corbusier and the CIAM tradition. He speaks Polish, German, French, English, Spanish, Latvian, and Latin.

Soltan also has given open lectures and key addresses in Europe, North America, the Middle East, South Africa, and South America. His memberships include UAM (Union des Artistes Modernes) France; Team 10, International; ZPAP (Association of Polish Artists), Warsaw; AICA (association internationale des critiques d'art); SARP (Association of Polish Architects),Warsaw; Akademie der Kuenste, Berlin; and ACSA. His myriad academic and professional honors include honorary AM degree, Harvard University, 1968; member, Akademie der Kuenste, Berlin; and Honorary Professor of Architecture, Universidad Nacional Federico, Villareal, Lima.

Soltan will receive the Topaz Medallion in March, during ACSA's annual meeting.

Copyright 2002 The American Institute of Architects. All rights reserved.


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* Mr. Janes' nom de plume at the AIA is Media Maven Mike.

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