2021 Gold Medal
The Gold Medal is the AIA’s highest annual honor, recognizing individuals whose work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.
While many were introduced to carbon attributable to buildings and Edward Mazria’s research and insight in Metropolis’ October 2003 cover story, “Architects Pollute,” Mazria, FAIA, had long been sounding the alarm on climate change. He has built his distinguished career around motivating the profession to enact positive change and take immediate action. An amalgam of architect, researcher, advocate, and influencer, Mazria’s impact on the AEC industry is profound, helping to plot a new course for practice in the 21st century.
“Ed Mazria’s ‘voice in the wilderness’ about architecture’s potential to change the projected path of impending global climate change seemed a formidable if not unattainable goal in 2003,” Thompson Penney, FAIA, the 2003 AIA president, wrote of Mazria. “In the ensuing decades, his unwavering voice and leadership have shown that it can be done and in fact is being done!”
A native New Yorker and graduate of the Pratt Institute, Mazria received his bachelor of architecture degree from the school and played on its basketball team, garnering attention from the New York Knicks. After being selected in the 11th round of the 1962 NBA draft, Mazria opted to serve in the Peace Corps in Peru, where he realized that responsible architecture is the key to both social and environmental improvement. When he returned stateside to work in the office of the 2007 Gold Medal winner, Edward Larrabee Barnes, FAIA, Mazria’s outlook was further defined by his mentor’s understated and place-based approach to architecture.
Teaching opportunities and an advanced degree called Mazria to New Mexico in 1973, where the state’s natural environment influenced the course of his career. Upon completing his master’s degree, he accepted a teaching position at the University of Oregon to focus on solar energy research. The capstone of that work was the publication of The Passive Solar Energy Book in 1979. Still heavily referenced to this day, the book has been translated into five languages and global sales have topped 1 million copies. With his research complete, Mazria returned to New Mexico to test his theories in a series of iconic passive solar and highly contextual buildings, such as the Stockebrand Residence, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, and Georgia O’Keefe’s estate, Sol y Sombra.
Supported by his groundbreaking portfolio designed to urge architects away from fossil fuels, Mazria helped found AIA’s Committee on the Environment in the 1990s. Later, his significant personal donation fortified the COTE Top Ten student competition, dramatically expanding its reach. In 2002 his firm began conducting pro-bono work under the name Architecture 2030. Just a few years later, it became a full-fledged nonprofit organization dedicated to altering the course of climate change.
Supported by Mazria’s decades of research, teaching, writing, and practice, Architecture 2030’s influence has shaped some of the world’s actions on climate change, including the United Nations’ 21st Conference of the Parties that followed the adoption of The Paris Agreement. There, Mazria presented his organization’s research on the greenhouse gas footprint produced by buildings created through standard business practices and principles. He delivered hopeful data and best practices while outlining Architecture 2030’s comprehensive Roadmap to Zero Emissions for the building industry.
“Through his work at Architecture 2030, Ed has been a tireless advocate, a consummate communicator, a skilled designer of innovative tools, and most importantly a master builder of powerful alliances across professions, industries, and governments, igniting a global network focused on sustainable growth and urgent climate action,” wrote Marsha Maytum, FAIA, in a letter supporting Mazria’s nomination for the Gold Medal.
Mazria’s life’s work has long influenced AIA’s stances on sustainability and environmental stewardship. Since adopting the Architecture 2030 Challenge in 2006, the Institute’s collaborations with the nonprofit have gained increasing momentum, sparking changes to the AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and the Blue Ribbon Panel on Codes and Standards’ publication of Disruption, Evolution, and Change. Mazria’s ideals formed the foundation for the 2019 Board of Directors’ radical realignment of priorities to address climate change, dubbed “The Big Move.”
“Ed has been the most influential advocate and passionate spokesperson, around the world, for both the causes and solutions for climate change,” wrote Carole Wedge, FAIA, in a letter supporting Mazria’s nomination. “The relevance of the work of Architecture 2030, the impact on AIA’s strategic priority to focus on climate change, and now the advancement of embodied carbon are all areas where Ed has transformed not only the dialogue, but also the behavior of the AEC industry and the results we have achieved.”
As one of the world’s foremost experts on the built environment’s role in both causing and curing climate change, Mazria addresses the global threat as a design problem. Facing countless challenges and a client base of 7.5 billion humans, his leadership and positioning of architects as a critical resource is creating a healthy, just, and carbon-positive future.