John D. Anderson, FAIA

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John D. Anderson, FAIA | 2013 Edward C. Kemper Award Recipient

By Kim O'Connell, AIArchitect

The American Institute of Architects Board of Directors awarded the Edward C. Kemper Award to John Anderson, FAIA, in recognition of his many leadership roles within the AIA at the state and national levels, particularly in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that horrifically re-envisioned architecture and the built environment into symbolic targets of hatred and intolerance. Named in honor of the AIA’s first executive director, the award is given annually to an architect who has contributed significantly to the profession through service to the AIA.

As then-president of the AIA, Anderson played a critical role in the Institute's response to the 9/11 attacks, working closely with the local New York chapter to determine how architects could best help a shattered and horrified city and nation. Having devoted much of his long and remarkable career to public service and public sector work, Anderson was well-equipped to bring a range of people and professions together to inform, comfort, and rebuild. Before and since, he centered his career around architectural education, diversity, and sustainability long before some of these terms were fashionable. His firm, Anderson Mason Dale Architects, has received more than 100 design awards from the AIA and other groups, and was honored as Firm of the Year by the Western Mountain Region in 1986 and by AIA Colorado in 2000.

"Through his significant contributions to the profession and the Institute, John has exemplified in every way all the attributes embodied in one deserving of this award," wrote George Miller, FAIA, and Joseph Aliotta, AIA, in their joint nomination letter on behalf of AIA New York. "He is a person of great integrity, dignity, and humility; an exceptional leader who has devoted his lifetime to enhancing our profession through his service to the AIA, his city, and state."

An advocate and teacher

Although he was born in Connecticut, Anderson has long identified with the West, and particularly his adopted state of Colorado. After joining the Naval Air Corps toward the end of World War II, he earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree at Harvard in 1949 and a Masters of Architecture from Harvard's Graduate School of Design in 1952. By that time, he and his young family had moved to Denver, where they became enthralled with the natural scenery. They eventually climbed all 54 of Colorado's "Fourteeners," storied peaks rising higher than 14,000 feet.

This concern and respect for nature and the environment would inform his later work as a proponent of sustainable design, which Anderson has lectured about at numerous conferences and gatherings both in the United States and abroad. Ascending to the presidency of AIA Colorado in 1971, Anderson quickly seized on what was then known as the "energy crisis," recognizing the role that architects could play in increasing the energy efficiency of the built environment. During this period, his firm designed what was then the world’s largest solar-heated building at the Westminster, Colo., campus of Front Range Community College. He served on the AIA’s Energy Committee from 1974 to 1983, becoming its chair in 1982. He played a critical part in that committee’s evolution into COTE, the AIA's highly successful Committee on the Environment.

In his beloved Denver, Anderson has been involved in several local preservation, conservation, and downtown revitalization ventures. He also has been active in promoting architectural education, serving on the board of advisors to the University of Colorado's College of Architecture and Planning, and lecturing and teaching there as well. The university awarded Anderson with an honorary doctorate in 2006.

Breaking new ground

Anderson also used his status as an AIA leader to promote diversity from within the profession. In the 1970s, he encouraged women to become leaders in the field, and later worked with Paul Taylor, FAIA, a past president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, on a plan to make AIA's diversity programs more aggressive and effective.

"In 1975, I was the first female architect John Anderson had ever hired," recalls Denver-based architect Martha Bennett, FAIA, in her recommendation letter. "Recognizing the issues that came with working within a male‐dominated profession, he facilitated my work on the National AIA Women and Minority Task Force, and the establishment of the first Women in Architecture group in Denver. He lent his firm’s substantive name and stature within the community in changing the perception of architects as 'men only' to clients, suppliers, consultants, and contractors."

Theodore Landsmark, Assoc. AIA, president of Boston Architectural College and past recipient of the AIA's Whitney Young diversity award, calls Anderson a "spectacular leader" whose work has led to increases in the numbers of minority and women architecture students across the country. "John broke new ground in this regard, taking active leadership in reaching out aggressively to groups representing more diverse architects," he wrote in his letter of recommendation. "He was the originator of the successful effort to begin systematic data collection and analysis of demographic trends within the profession, and he brought together people who had historically been unable to work together to create specific initiatives."

'One building at a time'

By 2001, Anderson had become the first Coloradoan to serve as the national president of the AIA. He took office believing that the biggest crisis facing the organization was a financial one. Within a week of his inauguration, in December 2000, AEC Direct, a corporation created to manage many of the Institute’s service programs, closed permanently. As AEC Direct’s major shareholder, the AIA suddenly went from having $1.5 million in reserves to bearing more than $5 million in debt. Anderson quickly embarked on a fiscal planning process that returned the AIA to financial health within three years.

Anderson had just begun to implement the financial recovery plan when the September 11 terrorist attacks abruptly shifted the organization's focus. Flying to New York as soon as he could, Anderson led the AIA’s response programs, which dominated the remainder of his presidency. Among other efforts, he started a recovery fund to assist AIA members and their families who had been affected by the attacks. He also worked with the local chapter to develop a recovery program called New York New Visions, which the AIA subsequently recognized with a Collaborative Achievement award.

Not long after the Twin Towers fell, Anderson wrote an open letter to the AIA membership. "Our quandary as architects—a dilemma ultimately shared by everyone in the building process—is that when buildings become icons, they make their inhabitants vulnerable to the threats of this dangerous new era," he wrote. "And, as we ponder that awful day, we see new and terrible dimensions to the challenge of creating architecture that successfully signals a society's highest values and proudest achievements while protecting those within its walls. This challenge can best be met one building at a time."

Anderson's contributions are still deeply felt in New York City and beyond. "As the towers at the World Trade Center rise after the 10th anniversary of the attack, and the National 9/11 Memorial, in its first year, draws almost five million visitors, the vision, inspiration, and understanding of John Anderson remain in our hearts," wrote AIA New York executive director Rick Bell, FAIA, in his recommendation letter. "He understood the role of architects at Ground Zero, and gave the Institute a role there."

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Photo Credits

  • All images courtesy of John D. Anderson, FAIA

John D. Anderson, FAIA


(Photo credits at bottom of page)

Named in honor of the AIA’s first executive director, who served from 1914 to 1948, Edward C. Kemper Award past recipients have included William Perkins, FAIA (1950); Norman L. Koonce, FAIA (1998); Norbert W. Young, FAIA (2005); Barbara A. Nadel, FAIA (2009); and James Logan Abell, FAIA (2010).

2013 Edward C. Kemper Awards Jury

  • Steven Spurlock, FAIA, Chair
  • Wnuck Spurlock Architecture
  • Washington, DC
  • James Binkley, FAIA
  • Reston, Virginia
  • Brian F. Cavanaugh, AIA
  • Architecture Building Culture LLC
  • Portland, Oregon 
  • Aisha Densmore-Bey, Assoc. AIA
  • Aisha Densmore-Bey, Designer
  • Boston
  • Lonnie Hoogeboom, AIA
  • Houston Downtown Management District
  • Houston

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