2014 Edward C. Kemper Award Recipient

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Fredric Bell, FAIA | Notes of Interest

By Kim A. O'Connell, AIArchitect

The American Institute of Architects Board of Directors bestowed the Edward C. Kemper Award on Fredric “Rick” Bell, FAIA, in recognition of his service to New York City and his commitment to sustainable design and public health. 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.

With extensive experience in both public and private practice, Bell has dedicated his career to improving the lives of residents in New York City and the surrounding areas. He was appointed executive director of the AIA New York chapter in June 2001, mere months before the Sept. 11 attacks. In the aftermath of that disaster, he provided support to members who had been directly affected by the destruction and the subsequent economic downturn. Bell was instrumental in the effort to create AIA New York's storefront Center for Architecture, which has since become a model for similar architecture centers nationwide. Bell has served on numerous boards and committees, is an avid speaker and writer, and remains a staunch advocate for using architecture to positively affect public health and the environment.

“Rick advocates tirelessly for the profession and, simply put, makes things happen,” wrote Jill Lerner, FAIA, and Lance Brown, FAIA, in their joint nomination letter on behalf of AIA New York. “As an architect with a clear vision for the future and an unfailing capacity to speak to the value and power of architecture, Rick Bell merits the distinction that the Edward C. Kemper Award confers.”

New York roots
Bell's began his architecture career as an undergraduate at Yale University, where he earned a B.A. cum laude with a double major in architecture and art history in 1973. Three years later, he graduated from Columbia University with an M.Arch degree. He soon joined the firm of Warner Burns Toan and Lunde, where he designed public libraries, university structures, and hotels.

In October 1993, he joined the New York City Department of Design + Construction. As chief architect and assistant commissioner, he oversaw about 700 projects with a combined value of approximately $1.5 billion, frequently presenting these projects to the Art Commission, City Planning Commission, and Landmarks Preservation Commission, among others. At this agency, Bell led a collaborative effort to produce the first set of universal design guidelines for New York City.

“While no one is irreplaceable, I am convinced that the New York Center for Architecture would not be what it is today without Frederic Bell,” wrote David Burney, FAIA, current commissioner of the New York City DDC, in his recommendation letter. “Our profession would be far poorer without his service. Rick's service to the profession has been effective and long-lasting, and I strongly endorse his nomination.”

Serving a wider purpose
The Sept. 11 attacks represented a watershed moment for all Americans, and especially architects, who rose to the challenge. As the then-new executive director of the AIA New York chapter, Bell developed and led New York New Visions, a program to guide rebuilding and redevelopment of Lower Manhattan. The program, which brought together 20 civic and design organizations, earned the AIA's Collaborative Achievement Award in 2003.

The Center for Architecture, which opened in 2003, served as the meeting place for many reconstruction activities, and has since become a definitive model for bringing architecture to the forefront of public consciousness. Since its opening, the Center has hosted 20 exhibitions per year and has become a model for other centers for architecture, of which there are now 22 nationwide. As a founding board member of the Association of Architectural Associations, Bell connected these centers and others in a network that shares expertise and advocates for the profession. Under Bell's leadership, the AIA New York chapter has demonstrably grown in size, reach, and importance--membership in AIA New York has more than doubled during his tenure.

“[Bell] has helped the AIA's global outreach through programs between New York and Moscow, New York and Berlin, and New York and Hong Kong, among others,” wrote former AIA President George Miller, FAIA, in his recommendation letter. “In New York, his outreach to our mayor, city council, and our commissioners has resulted in the voice of our members being heard.”

More recently, Bell led AIA New York in a collaborative regional response to the areas affected by 2012's Superstorm Sandy. Bell helped convene a regional conference that allowed participants to compare projects and catalyze government responses; the recommendations that came out of the conference were published in a widely disseminated report.

“Rick's brilliant architectural vision for the Center is visible throughout its versatile and elegant design, allowing for an incredible volume of activities reaching out to wide audiences,” wrote Amanda Burden, director of the New York City Department of City Planning, in her recommendation letter. “The success of Rick's leadership is evident in the expansion of the Center, anchoring this institution in New York City for the long term. One of Rick's main qualities is an understanding that architecture and design are at their best when they serve wider purposes, and are directly engaged with public policy issues.”

New programs and policies
When it comes to public policy, Bell has been particularly passionate about public health and sustainability. He initiated FitCity, a new program that merges architecture and public health by encouraging more physical activity in daily life. In 2010, FitCity became a part of New York City policy with the release of the New York City Active Design Guidelines, for which Bell wrote the introduction. In 2011, he introduced the FitNation program, which promotes a range of design solutions that benefit public health through workshops and exhibitions.

New Housing New York, a program for sustainable and affordable housing, was also Bell’s brainchild. Under his leadership, the city and AIA New York sponsored a design-build competition for a brownfield site in the South Bronx. The winning project, Via Verde, has garnered design awards for Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects, and become a rallying cry and talking point for advocates who believe low-income housing can be sustainable, healthy, and beautiful.

Finally, Bell has been a prolific advocate for his chapter specifically, and for the profession in general, through his numerous publications. He has written more than 150 columns for AIA New York’s Oculus and eOculus, and contributed chapters to books about global design. He has served on numerous boards and committees, and won several prestigious awards, including the LaGuardia Medallion for “constant and dedicated service” for neighborhood arts and diversity as well as AIA New York State’s Kideney Gold Medal. In 2008, Bell was the AIA’s president of the Council of Architectural Component Executives, the only architect to have held this position.

“Rick has used his position as executive director of AIA New York to create a chapter and center that are internationally known and respected for their public engagement, innovative programs, and fore-fronting of all that architecture is and might be,” wrote Kate Schwennsen, FAIA, chair and professor of the Clemson University School of Architecture and a former AIA National president. “In so doing, he has served the AIA through greatly broadening the reach of AIA New York architects and architecture, and thus of all AIA architects and architecture.”

Go to the December 13, 2013 issue of AIArchitect
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Photo Credit

© Fredric Bell
© Active Design Guidelines, The City of New York
© Fredric Bell
© Universal Design New York, The City of New York
© Fredric Bell

Fredric Bell, 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).

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More about Fredric Bell, FAIA

2014 Kemper Award Jury

  • William Bates, AIA (Chair)
  • Eat’n Park Hospitality Group
  • Homestead, Pennsylvania
  • Amanda Palasik, Assoc. AIA
  • GWWO, Inc.
  • Baltimore
  • Rona Rothenberg, FAIA
  • Administrative Office of the Courts
  • Alameda, California
  • Benjamin Vargas, FAIA
  • Bartizan Group Architects & Project Managers, PSC
  • Hato, Rey, Puerto Rico
  • Jennifer Workman, AIA
  • Good Fulton & Farrell, Inc.
  • Dallas

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