Practicing ArchitecturePracticing Architecture
Chester Widom, FAIA, Honored with 2011 Edward C. Kemper Award for Service to the AIA
By Sara Fernández Cendón
The American Institute of Architect’s Board of Directors bestowed the Edward C. Kemper Award on Chester A. Widom, FAIA, rewarding a career spent advocating for greater collaboration and highlighting the civic role of architecture. Named in honor of the AIA’s first executive director (Edward C. Kemper), the award is given annually to an architect who has contributed significantly to the profession through service to the AIA.
As founding partner of the Southern California-based WWCOT, Chester (Chet) Widom, FAIA, spent more than 40 years at the helm of his firm before retiring in 2008. Parallel to his architectural practice, Widom has built a legacy that friends and collaborators often describe as “visionary.” Throughout his entire career, he’s worked to demonstrate that architects can be exemplary civic leaders with an intimate understanding of how the built world can empower and uplift communities.
In her nomination letter, Pamela M. Touschner, FAIA, compares Widom--whom she has known for 17 years as an employee, partner and friend--to one of the most spectacular engineering feats of the 20th century. “Chet’s service to the profession through AIA is reminiscent of the Concorde,” she wrote. “A product of supreme inspiration, bold vision, mind-boggling collaboration, and innovation--a creation years ahead of its time that moved at the speed of sound.”
Widom’s service to the AIA began in 1982, when he was secretary of the Los Angeles chapter. Since then he’s occupied positions with the AIA California Council, including serving as its president in 1989, and currently as chairman of its Capitol Forum, a group composed of leading member firms that have made a significant financial commitment to advance advocacy, thought leadership, and research initiatives. Beyond the California Council, Widom rose through AIA national leadership, serving on the External Affairs and Professional Excellence Commissions, on special task forces focused on issues such as education and construction documents, and as chair of the National AIA/Associated General Contractors of America Joint Conference. Eventually he became a regional director, vice president, and president of the AIA in 1995.
Under his leadership, the 1995 national convention focused on changes emerging in project delivery methods. Widom’s attention to this subject ultimately resulted in the “Project Delivery Manual,” published by AIA California Council, which provides a thorough description of eight delivery methods. The manual has served as a guide for clients, contractors, and architects for more than a decade. In its introduction the manual recognizes Widom for having led the AIA in “shedding its past protection of the traditional method” in order to focus, instead, on encouraging members to deliver services using the delivery method most appropriate for each project.
Writing in support of Widom’s nomination, Michael Franklin Ross, FAIA, principal at HGA’s Santa Monica, Calif., office, recognized Widom’s work in this area as a precursor to Integrated Project Delivery (IDP), for which Widom is a strong advocate. “We have Chet Widom to thank for pioneering this important concept,” Ross wrote. “Under his leadership, as national AIA president, Chet focused on future changes in the design and construction industry, which laid the foundation for IPD.”
Led by Widom, a coalition with the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), and the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) advocated defining a variety of project-delivery approaches for federal projects. As president of the AIA, Widom authored partnering agreements with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Veterans Administration, and other federal agencies, improving working relationships between them and AIA constituents.
Again, Michael Franklin Ross in his recommendation letter praised Widom’s ability to build consensus: “Chet has the rare gift of being able to see issues from multiple perspectives,” he wrote. “While he’s been a practicing architect for over 40 years, he’s also been able to put himself in others’ shoes. No doubt part of his success comes from his keen awareness of the client’s position, an understanding of the designer’s goals, the contractor’s agenda, and the requirements of the multitude of government agencies who oversee the design and construction process.”
After he left his practice in 2008, Widom became senior architectural advisor to the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), a position he still holds. In his recommendation letter, Larry Eisenberg, executive director of facilities planning and development at LACCD, celebrates having asked Widom to join the program: “The buildings that we are seeing coming out of the design process are inspired,” he wrote. “The architecture that I am seeing is world-class, and the sustainable nature of the buildings is remarkable. It appears that when all is said and done, the LACCD will have nearly 20 buildings that will be built to the LEED Platinum standard. This result is directly attributable to Chet.”
This is by no means the first time Widom has served in a civic leadership role, bringing his unique perspective to public policy discussions and elevating the standing of the profession as a positive force in shaping public space. Widom has been actively involved in many state and local commissions, including the California State Hospital Building and Safety Board, the Los Angeles City Building and Safety commissions, and the Los Angeles Unified School District Bond Oversight Committee. Noting his many civic commitments, Ronald Skaggs, FAIA, a former AIA president, described Widom as a “Citizen Architect,”--“in every sense of the word.”
Writing in AIArchitect in 1995, Widom argued that civic participation is about more than helping shape policy, making the profession more interesting to young people, or attracting businesses to a particular area. “Involvement is not a pretext for recruitment,” Widom wrote about the importance of supporting local schools. “It is a way to strengthen our communities and position architects as leaders among the other professions. It is also a way to earn the right to be called, as Dr. Jonas Salk would have put it, a good ancestor.”
Named in honor of the AIA’s first executive director from 1914 till 1948, past winners of the Edward C. Kemper Award have been William Perkins, FAIA (1950), Norman Koonce, FAIA (1998), Norbert Young, FAIA (2005), Barbara Nadel, FAIA (2009), and James Abell, FAIA (2010).
Visit the AIA Honors and Awards Web site.