Georgia Tech Architecture Alumni Win Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award

Jul 19, 2012 | Atlanta, GA

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  • Merrill Elam and Mack Scogin

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Teri Nagel, Georgia Tech College of Architecture

In Washington, D.C. this week, Georgia Tech School of Architecture alumni Mack Scogin (1967) and Merrill Elam (1971) accepted the top prize for Architecture in the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards. One of the nation’s most prestigious awards in design, the annual program celebrates design in various disciplines as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world.

“I have known and experienced the architecture of Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam for more than 35 years. It has evolved in its complexity and intricacy, but from the earliest days theirs was and remains a delicate and beautiful spatial poetry, utterly original and owing a debt to none,” said Alan Balfour, dean of the Georgia Tech College of Architecture.

Founded in 1984, their Atlanta-based firm, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, has won international acclaim for work that ranges from a sleek factory for Herman Miller to the Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center for Wellesley College and commercial office space for Tishman Speyer Properties. The firm’s diverse body of work is uniquely characterized by profound rigor tempered by childlike innocence. It has been recognized with numerous awards and publications and has been shown at museums such as The Museum of Modern Art and The Walker Art Center.

“We are very, very proud to be able to count Mack and Merrill among the alumni of our School,” said George Johnston, chair of the School of Architecture.

The National Design Awards were conceived by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum to honor lasting achievement in American design. The Awards are bestowed in recognition of excellence, innovation and enhancement of the quality of life. It is one of the few programs of its kind structured to continue to benefit the nation long after the awards ceremony and gala.

Balfour continued, “The significance of their work derives not from being polemical but from the intersection of two imaginations continually exploring the infinite possibilities in defining space and materials, and these are distinctly American imaginations. Such national recognition is exactly appropriate to the strength of their work.”

The architects also participated in a Teen Design Fair hosted by the museum as part of the awards celebration. Local teens from Washington and New York City chatted with the honorees about their careers and the impact of design.

The Washington Post reported Elam’s comments to the teens: “There’s no reason that American design shouldn’t be the most inventive. We have the most freedom of any place on the face of the earth, and our design work should just reflect that on and on and on.”

Other honorees included:

  • Lifetime Achievement: Richard Saul Wurman, for his profound and long-term contribution to the contemporary practice of design. Wurman created and chaired the TED, TEDMED and eg conferences in 1984–2002, 1995–2010 and 2006, respectively. 
  • Design Mind Award: Janine Benyus, a biologist and innovation consultant working to use biomimicry, looking to nature to create sustainable designs.
  • Design Patron: Red Burns, an arts professor and chief collaborations officer for the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, for her innovations in communications technology.
  • Communication Design: Rebeca Mendes, a professor in media arts at the University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Interaction Design: Evan Roth, an artist who visualizes and records often unseen moments in public spaces and collaborated with Jay-Z on the first open-source rap video.
  • Interior Design: Clive Wilkinson Architects, a Los Angeles-based firm whose clients have included Google, Disney and 20th Century Fox.
  • Landscape Architecture: Stoss Landscape Urbanism, a Boston studio that works in both landscape design and urban planning.
  • Product Design: Scott Wilson, founder of the Chicago-based studio Minimal that collaborated with Microsoft to design Kinect for Xbox 360 and who created TikTok watches for the iPod Nano.

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