december 14, 2006
  2008 Architecture Firm Award Goes to KieranTimberlake

by Tracy Ostroff
Associate Editor

Summary: The AIA Board of Directors voted on December 13 to award the 2008 AIA Architecture Firm Award to KieranTimberlake Associates LLP. The Board praised the firm for its commitment to developing a research-based practice that uses its intelligence to support and promote sustainable architecture.

“It’s overwhelming—I’m stunned!” said Principal James Timberlake, FAIA, when he answered the phone call from AIA President RK Stewart giving him the news. “Thank you very much for Stephen [Kieran], myself, and the firm. I’m truly humbled by this honor.”

Sustainable design and research focus are at the core of this 23-year-old practice. “A long-standing commitment to and keen understanding of sustainable design in particular are among the fruits of the firm’s unusually thorough design research, a firm approach that focuses on new materials, processes, assemblies, and products (the firm assigns four professionals and 3 percent of its gross revenues to research annually), “writes nominator Hubert Murray, AIA, RIBA, president of the Boston Society of Architects.

The firm’s research has resulted in the manifesto reFabricating Architecture and for propositions for new building materials, such as Smartwrap™, a mass customized printed skin that generates and stores energy and converts it to light. The architects are applying these technologies directly to their projects, including the recently completed Atwater Commons at Middlebury College, a project that sets new standards for the holistic integration of sustainable design with compelling architectural form. The firm also recently completed the award-winning Sidwell Friends Middle School in Washington, D.C., which received a LEED®-Platinum certification, the first K-12 building to receive this recognition. The project integrates a range of innovative initiatives with the goal of teaching students about the environment through their daily encounters with the building.

Research in practice
The widely published Loblolly House in Maryland demonstrates the firm’s commitment to off-site fabrication as a means of reducing the environmental impact of construction on site while increasing quality and artistic possibilities.

“In addition to a design research studio at the University of Pennsylvania that focuses on the emerging interface between materials science, fabrication methodology, and design, the firm openly shares its methods with interns and practitioners through writing, programs, and lectures in the United States and abroad,” Murray writes.

In 2001, Kieran and Timberlake received the first Latrobe Fellowship from the AIA College of Fellows, a research prize that provided the impetus to retain full-time research staff in the practice. From that position they went on to design their offices to accommodate their core research agenda and they continue to fuse, they say, their academic and practice-based research through collaborations, writings, lectures, symposia, and exhibitions. They worked with Dupont to develop SmartWrap, and presented at the inaugural McGraw Hill “Innovations Symposium.”

“We proceed with the shared belief that research is the central activity that underlies invention, innovation, and design at our firm,” the architects note. They are one of the first firms in the U.S. to be ISO 9000:2001 certified for research, management, and delivery of services.

Practice and research
The firm has received more than 65 awards for design excellence. “The application of inquiry and research to the circumstances of site along with our special passion for the revelation of the crafts – the means, methods, materials, and systems that underlie the making of our architecture,” cuts across all their projects, including:

  • Pierson and Davenport Colleges, Yale University, New Haven
  • Middle School Addition and Renovation, Sidwell Friends School, Washington, D.C.
  • Loblolly House, Taylor’s Island, Md.
  • Noyes Community Recreation Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
  • Atwater Commons, Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt.
  • Melvin J. and Claire Levine Hall, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Partners Stephen Kieran, FAIA, and James Timberlake, FAIA, met in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and formed their working relationship as projects architects at Venturi Scott Brown Associates in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1980, and 1982, respectively, Kieran and Timberlake were awarded the Rome Prize Fellowship in Architecture by the American Academy in Rome. “The fellowship was a pivotal moment for each in different ways. It solidified the past, yet at the same time opened new paths forward into the vast under explored future of modernism that is the firm’s work,” the architects note.

“The firm’s early work was guided by a clearly articulated vision and a plan. We set out to build first, not just draw, with a focus on commissions, however modest, not competitions,” the architects note. “We believed then and we continue to believe that we advance the cause of architecture through a continuous cycle of observing, researching, conceiving, and building.”

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KieranTimberlake will be presented with the Firm Award during the American Architectural Foundation Accent on Architecture Gala February 22, 2008, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Previous recipients include Leers Weinzapfel (2007), Moore Ruble Yudell (2006), Murphy/Jahn (2005), and Lake/Flato Architects (2004).

Firm portrait, photo © Ed Wheeler Photography.
1. Sidwell Friends Middle School, Washington, D.C. is the first school to achieve a LEED® Platinum rating. The project garnered an AIA COTE Top Ten Green Building Award.
2. Atwater Commons, Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt., is providing residence halls for seniors.
3. The Yale Sculpture Building will become the permanent home for the university’s sculpture department.
4. The Loblolly House, Taylor’s Island Md.,an AIA national Honor Award recipient, composed of 40 component, and built in three weeks, was born from the firm’s Latrobe Fellow research.

Photos courtesy of the architect.