December 5, 2008
  2009 Topaz Medallion Goes to Adèle Santos, FAIA

Summary: Adèle Naudé Santos,FAIA, dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture + Planning, is the 2009 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion recipient. She will be awarded the medallion at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) Annual Meeting in Portland, Ore., March 26–29, 2009. The AIA will recognize her at the 2009 National Convention in San Francisco April 30–May 2.

Before her appointment as MIT School of Architecture + Planning dean in 2004, Santos was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design, where her academic focus was on blending residential and environmental design. Her interdisciplinary courses encouraged architecture, landscape, and urban design students to collaborate and address unsolved problems in the urban environment.

Before Berkeley, she was the founding dean at the UC San Diego School of Architecture and professor of architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was also chair of the architecture department for six years. She also taught at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and at Rice University. She has been a visiting professor at the University of Virginia, Miami University (Ohio), Harvard, Rice, and Columbia, as well as a studio master/critic at the University of Cape Town in her native nation, South Africa. In 2002, she was a resident at the American Academy in Rome.

“During my entire career, I have combined teaching and practice,” Santos says. “There has always been a cross-fertilization between the two, and, at their best, both teaching and practice have been a form of research. The balance between the two has been an important stimulus to my creativity as a teacher and to my professional work and role as an administrator. Even now, as dean at MIT, I have a small practice, which I find an essential creative outlet, and I continue to teach.”

A force of nature
“For her entire working lifetime, she has been like a force of nature in architectural education and practice, inevitable and irresistible,” writes Edward Allen, FAIA, the 2005 Topaz Medallion recipient, in his letter of support.

“As a practitioner, teacher, role model, leader, pioneer, mentor, and articulate advocate of effective, innovative architectural education, Santos is a nonpareil soul whose impact on our profession and on both educators and students has been and continues to be extraordinary,” writes BSA President Diane Georgopulos, FAIA, in her letter of nomination.

Lauds Columbia University Ware Professor of Architecture Kenneth Frampton, Assoc. AIA: “This is a woman who was well trained, one might even say programmed by one brilliant architect and/or teacher after another, including A&P Smithson, Shadrach Woods, Brian Richards, Jose Luis Sert, Fumihiko Maki, and David Crane.”

In his own letter of support for Santos’s Topaz nomination, Maki, who first met Santos when she was a student at Harvard and is currently the architect for the MIT Media Arts and Sciences Building, writes: “I was able to closely observe her performance at the school since her appointment as dean … She dramatically transformed the school by creating synergy between architecture, urban design, media arts, and sciences while appointing senior positions to an international cast of educators cum practitioners. It has culminated in a renewed interest in research where a new and evolving curriculum has emerged.”

And, as Andrea Leers, FAIA, principal of the 2008 Firm Award recipient Leers Weinzapfel Associates, writes: “As a citizen of the world, she has brought the world to her students, gathering people, disciplines, and cultures together in the endeavor of architect … As a woman professional and educator, she has been a pioneer, an inspiration, and a mentor to countless women students.”

A holistic approach
Professor Santos holds an AA diploma from the Architectural Association in London, a master of architecture in urban design from Harvard University, and a master of architecture and master of city planning from the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to her academic work, Santos is principal architect in the San Francisco-based firm, Santos Prescott and Associates. Her architectural and planning projects include affordable and luxury housing and institutional buildings in Africa; affordable housing in Japan; the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia; the Center for the Arts at Albright College, Reading, Pa.; the Yerba Buena Gardens Children's Center in San Francisco; City Links, A Vision Plan for San Diego; and Franklin/LaBrea Affordable Housing in Hollywood, Calif.

Santos takes a holistic approach to architecture. Her belief that architecture transcends accommodation of programmatic requirements to also satisfy the human spirit has resulted in buildings that are characterized by abundant natural light, connections to nature, and innovative spatial arrangements.

She pays close attention to the people affected by her design, whether it be community groups on the development of housing, faculty or administrative committees on institutional projects, or collaborations with artists and administrators on arts-related spaces.

Her commitment to design extends beyond practice and academia to embrace civic dimensions. She advises institutions ranging from the Harvard Graduate School of Design to the Children's Museum in San Diego, and serves on the peer review committee of the U.S. General Services Administration.

Among her many awards and honors, Santos became a Fellow of the AIA in 1996. She has won numerous competitions for projects including the Perris Civic Center (Calif.), three facilities at Arts Park (Calif.), the Affordable Prototypical Multi-Family Housing for Franklin/LaBrea in Los Angeles, and Penn Children's Center (Pa.). She often serves as a juror for national and international design competitions and award programs and has published extensively in journals and books. Her projects have been published in architecture journals worldwide and she has exhibited her work widely.

She holds NCARB certification, is a registered architect in Massachusetts, and is a member of the Architect's Registration Council in the United Kingdom.

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