2018 AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education Recipient
Architecture’s future depends on its next generation of leaders—and the educators who impact their lives. The Topaz Medallion honors those who educate others to ensure architecture’s enduring excellence.
Born in Argentina, Jorge Silvetti has taught at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design since 1975, serving as a gifted professor and mentor, and with Rodolfo Machado has worked as a design leader in Boston since 1974. While his influence at GSD was most strongly felt from 1995–2002, when he served as chair of the architecture program, he has propagated a distinct school of thought among the design professionals who have graduated in the past 42 years.
“This is not a stylization of architecture that is visually and immediately identifiable, but a way of thinking about history, precedent, and the contextual complexities of architectural production that has inspired generations of architects and educators such as myself,” wrote Christian Dagg, AIA, head of the Auburn University School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, in a letter nominating Silvetti for the AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion.
Currently the Nelson Robinson, Jr. Professor of Architecture at Harvard, Silvetti leads design studios and delivers regular lectures on history, contemporary theory, and criticism. His groundbreaking 1977 essay “The Beauty of Shadows” provided a compelling argument for how a profession caught between postmodernism and deconstruction should proceed. Later works co-authored with Machado that expanded upon his arguments have greatly influenced his students as well as other schools of design nationwide. The list of deans and department chairs who were former students, colleagues, or employees of Silvetti is long and impressive.
“As chair of the architecture program at Harvard, his emphasis on design as a form of research, coupled with his expansion of the field of architecture to include other design practices, had a profound effect on the discipline at large—an influence that can still be felt today,” Mónica Ponce de León, dean and professor at Princeton University’s School of Architecture, wrote in a letter supporting Silvetti’s nomination. “Through conferences, symposia, and exhibitions, Silvetti brought allied disciplines in conversation with architecture—long before interdisciplinary became a catchphrase in academia.”
Since 1986 Silvetti has overseen a number of research programs, including an examination of Sicily’s urbanism and architecture that won a Progressive Architecture award. Other projects have explored the future of public space in the shifting metropolis of Buenos Aires and the future development of previously industrial Bilbao, Spain. He is a recipient of the Rome Prize, and since 1996 has served as a Pritzker Architecture Prize juror. In 2000, he was a juror for the former Mies van der Rohe Prize for Latin American Architecture.
Beyond academia, Silvetti’s work in association with Rodolfo Machado since 1974 and under different professional firms that they founded and led (presently MACHADO SILVETTI), has been widely celebrated. Run like a studio where all employees contribute ideas and everyone shares in the learning experience, the firm’s notable projects include work at many major Universities and Colleges in the U.S., (among them Dartmouth and Bowdoin Colleges, Princeton, Harvard, Rice, and Arizona State universities), abroad at the American University in Beirut and the Vietnamese and German University in Vietnam, as well as notable cultural and educational institutions such as the Getty Trust in the U.S. The firm received the First Award in Architecture from the American University of Arts and Letters in 1991 and numerous design awards and citations from AIA.
“After teaching for many years and participating in many conversations, he stands among a select group of peers,” wrote Machado in a letter supporting his partner’s nomination. “In fact there are only a few still fully engaged in teaching, who have witnessed and indeed participated in the wild swings of academic pedagogy—from the post-modern to the parametric to the current heterotopic panorama. Throughout all of it, Jorge has been committed to teaching the core canons of architecture while simultaneously supporting those innovating people and emerging projects that benefit the core and expand the reach of architecture.”