2014 Thomas Jefferson Awards for Public Architecture

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Carole J. Olshavsky, FAIA | Category Two

By Sara Fernández Cendón

This year’s Thomas Jefferson Awards for Public Architecture honors Carole Olshavsky, FAIA, for her tireless support for bringing the highest-quality design to the civic and educational institutions of the state of Ohio. Olshavsky, the Category Two recipient, and the other 2014 Thomas Jefferson Awards recipients are celebrated for their commitment to public architecture as an integral part of the nation’s cultural heritage.

A Kent State University graduate, Olshavsky received her license in 1973 and began her career as a project architect working with firms in Akron, Ohio. In 1975 she and her husband, Donald Olshavsky, AIA, opened an architectural practice focused on residential and small commercial projects. They practiced together until Carole was appointed state architect of Ohio in 1985. In this position, which she held for three years, she oversaw approximately $1.5 billion in design and construction projects.

Some of the buildings commissioned during her tenure include award-winners by well-known national architects that set the pace for progressive higher-education design across the nation. For example, the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, completed in 1990, was designed by Peter Eisenman, FAIA, with Columbus-based Trott & Bean Architects. The Inventor’s Hall of Fame at the University of Akron was designed by James Polshek & Partners with Columbus-based Braun & Steidl. The Museum of Industry & Labor at Youngstown State University was designed by Michael Graves & Associates with Youngstown-based Ray Jaminet, AIA, in 1986.

In a letter supporting Olshavsky’s nomination, Michael Graves, FAIA, wrote, “Carole’s intelligent approach to every situation I was involved in consistently addressed how to make public architecture—the process as well as the product—better and better. A public sector architect can do our built environment no greater service than that, and Ohio has been fortunate to have had such a leader.”

Robert Livesey, FAIA, architecture professor at The Ohio State University, concurs. In his recommendation letter he praises Olshavsky’s performance as state architect. “Carole oversaw the construction of some of the best public sector architecture to be built in Ohio in the later part of the 20th century,” he wrote. “She encouraged, dare I say demanded, quality architecture from both local and internationally recognized firms.”

In 1988 Olshavsky was promoted to deputy director of the Ohio Division of Public Works, a position she held until 1991. During this period she initiated a master plan study for the renovation of the Ohio Statehouse, a National Historic Landmark that had been subject to neglect and misguided renovations. With the study in hand, she was able to secure funding for the $100 million project, which was completed in 1996. Praising Olshavsky’s work in forging the political will to complete this project, president and CEO of Columbus-based Schooley Caldwell Associates Robert Loversidge, FAIA, wrote in a recommendation letter, “Mr. Jefferson would be proud.”

Also during this time—and precipitated by work Olshavsky had started as state architect—a qualifications-based selection system for design and construction services was adopted as law in 1989, ensuring that public clients wouldn’t be tempted to select bids primarily because they were the cheapest possible option. With quality as part of the criteria, the law encouraged collaborations between local and national firms, significantly increasing the stature and awareness of design for civic buildings.

In his recommendation letter, Richard Celeste, governor of Ohio from 1983 until 1991, recalls Olshavsky’s involvement in passing this legislation. “She aggressively and successfully pursued the establishment of a uniform qualifications-based selection procedure for architectural services. She revised state contracting procedures to meet the needs of the construction industry, and she advocated the need to preserve and restore Ohio’s historic government buildings,” he wrote.

Olshavsky spend most of the 1990s working for a private firm, but in 2003 she rejoined the public sector, this time working for the Columbus City Schools. As senior executive of capital improvements, a position she still occupies today, she has led a 15-year, $1.3 billion school reconstruction program. As testament to Olshavsky’s leadership, 42 school projects, including 12 historic renovations, were completed during the first decade of the program. As work continues, Olshavsky is challenging design teams to achieve LEED Gold certification by pursuing sustainable criteria that support teaching and learning as their first priority.

Olshavsky is also leading the redevelopment of Fort Hayes, a 77-acre Civil War military base, into an arts campus, and she has commissioned a master plan to ensure that future development on the site is sensitive to its status as a National Historic Landmark.

Go to the Feb. 21, 2014 issue of AIArchitect
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Photo Credit

© Carole J. Olshavsky; Unknown; Columbus City Schools

Carole J. Olshavsky, FAIA

Category Two

Any AIA member, group of members, component, or knowledge community may nominate candidates for category two of the Thomas Jefferson Awards.

Licensed architects employed in the United States public sector or governmental agencies who manage or produce quality public architecture within their jurisdiction are eligible to be nominated in this category.

Governmental agencies who, by their successful contribution as a whole have fostered quality in the public environment, may be nominated in this category.

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2014 Thomas Jefferson Awards for Public Architecture 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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