Teacher-Author-Mentor Edward Allen, FAIA, to Receive Topaz Medallion


by Heather Livingston

The AIA and Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture on November 30 selected Edward Allen, FAIA, to receive the 2005 Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education. The award honors an individual who has made outstanding contributions to architecture education for at least 10 years and whose teaching has influenced a broad range of students and shaped the minds of those who will shape our environment. Allen will receive the award at the 2005 AIA National Convention and Design Expo in Las Vegas in May.

Throughout his career, Allen has fused architectural design with technology in his teaching and publications. As a student of architecture at the University of Minnesota, Allen remembers lamenting that the technical courses were uninspired and poorly connected to studios. While a professor at MIT, he began to shape and hone his ideas about the role of technology in architectural design and education, developing project-driven, studio-based technical courses. Allen also conceived new teaching methods that presented building technology as integral with form and space and established a hands-on laboratory for his course in construction materials and methods. The jury observed that Allen “has revolutionized the way technology is taught in the schools.”

Appointed in 1997 as the Pietro Belluschi Distinguished Professor of Architectural Design at the University of Oregon, Allen recommended and was instrumental in founding and developing the only graduate program in North America dedicated to training teachers of architectural technology. According to nominator Christine Theodoropoulos, head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Oregon, “In his teaching and his writing, Ed’s message is clear. He believes that buildings that are successful architecturally must also be successful technically and his love and enthusiasm for the craft of making buildings is extremely contagious. Ed has the extraordinary ability to eliminate the gap between building technology and architectural achievement that is often such a struggle for novice designers.”

Allen has also taught at Yale, the University of Washington, and Montana State University. He has presented lectures and workshops at universities worldwide. A sampling of his most popular lectures reveals a deep enthusiasm for his craft: “The Poetics of Brickwork,” “Structure, Space, and Form,” “Wellsprings of Architectural Delight,” and “Adventures with Trusses.”

In 1966, Allen spent a year in southern Italy on a Fulbright grant. While there, he researched and wrote most of the material that would become Stone Shelters (MIT Press, 1969), considered by many a classic work in the documentation of vernacular architecture. It remains in print after 37 years. Shortly after leaving MIT, Allen used his lecture notes on materials and methods of construction to write Fundamentals of Building Construction (Wiley, 2004, 4th Ed.). Allen concurrently produced Fundamentals while nurturing his growing practice. After a few years, when his royalties brought more income than his practice, Allen retired from practice to become an author, teacher, and guest lecturer.

Adèle Santos, FAIA, dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning notes, “Ed’s books are on my bookshelves in my studio and are an essential source for any architectural practice.” Indeed, the texts he has written and co-authored appear in nearly every university architecture department and architecture practice across the U.S.: Architectural Detailing (Wiley, 1992), How Buildings Work (Oxford University Press, 1995, 2nd Ed.), Shaping Structures: Statics (Wiley, 1998), The Architect’s Studio Companion (Wiley, 2002, 3rd Ed.), and Fundamentals of Residential Construction (Wiley, 2002).

In his letter of support for Allen’s nomination, David Whitney, AIA, wrote, “It is the rare architect who does not have at least one well-worn book by Ed Allen on his or her shelf. His lucid and engrossing explanations not only convey technical information in a clear and concise manner; they also inspire excitement and greater interest in subjects that otherwise architectural students receive only grudgingly or passively.”

Arguably Allen’s most significant contribution to the profession is the scores of individuals he has encouraged and mentored. Theodoropolous wrote that “His mentoring of teachers and future teachers has had an extraordinary impact on many careers. His encouragement stimulates our creativity and helps focus our voices. His frequent visits to schools, where he donates his lecturing and teaching, his Connector newsletter, and his founding of the technical teaching certificate at the University of Oregon are examples of his extraordinary generosity to the present and future of architectural education.”

Allen is the founder and editor of Connector, a newsletter for teachers of architectural technology that is sent free-of-charge to every technical teacher in the U.S. and Canada, as well as to many foreign teachers of architecture. Connector is a forum to present and discuss ideas to better incorporate building technology in architectural design instruction. The newsletter prints articles from teachers around the world and Allen’s editorial essays promote architectural technology as a vital aspect of architectural design.

Allen also created a small booklet of classroom tips for technical teachers entitled Notes to Myself (2001). It has been widely circulated in the profession and has even been used among teachers of music and law. “When I began teaching at MIT,” wrote John Ochsendorf, PhD, assistant professor of building technology at MIT, “Ed gave me a copy of his Notes to Myself, a self-published guide to teaching architecture. Ed’s ideas have inspired all of my teaching and the results have been exceptional. His small quotes hold enormous wisdom and I think of them whenever I am teaching.”

Robert J. Dermody, Assoc. AIA, assistant professor of architecture, Roger Williams University, wrote “Each semester, before I began teaching a course, I reread a small booklet of teaching tips that Ed wrote (and hand-crafted) for colleagues and friends called Notes to Myself. The first sentence reads ‘Teach with the stars in your eyes.’ Ed does, in all his educating endeavors. His enduring legacy will surely be the countless young architects and teachers he has inspired throughout his career.”

In the telephone call notifying Allen of his selection as the 2005 Topaz Medallion recipient, his comments were typically unassuming: “This has been my life’s work and it is great to know it has been so well-received. I am deeply touched by this.”


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