2021 Young Architects Award
Emerging talent deserves recognition. The AIA Young Architects Award honors individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the architecture profession early in their careers.
Operating at the critical juncture of architecture and education, Mark M. Bacon, AIA, leverages design to create public spaces and forums rife with optimism. Drawing on the rich trade and craft history of his native central Kansas, his knowledge of the interplay of materials and construction methods results in work that enriches the communities that surround it. His experiences have also contributed to a critical understanding of the ways in which good public design can strengthen communities, particularly in rural settings.
During his time at Kansas State University, where Bacon received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture, he discovered his interest in teaching. After time spent as a graduate teaching assistant, he led design studios at the university before joining Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s (BCJ) Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, studio. At BCJ, Bacon further honed his interest in material technology, founding the firm’s Design Research and Development Committee, which advanced its practice through formal research and prototyping. While in the Northeast, he collaborated with Marywood University’s founding dean, Gregory Hunt, FAIA, to develop a curriculum for a new architecture program there.
In 2010, with his growing family in tow, Bacon returned to the Midwest to join BVH Architecture. In addition to elevating the region’s public architecture through projects such as the Rangeland Laboratory at Chadron State College in Nebraska’s panhandle, Bacon has been instrumental in crafting the 50-year-old firm’s design-focused culture. His important contributions quickly catapulted him from design architect to design director. In 2019, he was promoted to design principal and took a seat on the firm’s board of directors.
“He brought his collaborative approach, his youthful enthusiasm, and a rigorous work ethic to the table every day to imbue his projects with beauty and purpose,” wrote Brandon Dake, FAIA, of Dake Wells Architecture in a letter nominating Bacon for the Young Architect Award. “He led firm-wide initiatives focused on design and stood up for design excellence with clients and across the office every chance possible. Slowly the culture of the firm started to change. His projects began receiving attention with local design awards, then regional awards, and most recently, national awards for projects like the St. John Paul II Newman Center.”
At the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL), where Bacon is a regular lecturer and sits on the Dean’s Professional Advisory Committee, he views his opportunity to instruct the next generation of architects as a source of inspiration. He opts for an approach grounded in conversation and experimentation rather than dogma, and his students are nurtured to construct their own architectural vocabulary and point of view. In his fourth-year design studio at the school, Bacon’s assignments focus on projects that enrich underserved rural communities, and he challenges all students to be intentional in their decision-making.
“He brought his collaborative approach, his youthful enthusiasm, and a rigorous work ethic to the table every day to imbue his projects with beauty and purpose.”
In 2014, he co-founded the SGH/Dri-Design Competition, a scholarship open to any fourth-year student at the university. Juried by a panel of nationally recognized architects from across the country, the program seeks to elevate the exchange of design, materiality, and innovation. Since its founding, projects entered into the competition have received more than 20 awards from AIA, the Society of American Registered Architects, and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. The exposure afforded by the competition has raised the school’s profile while strengthening its students’ resumes and connections with other professionals.
“It is no surprise that Mark has demonstrated repeatedly his exceptional leadership and significant contributions to the profession and the community through design, advocacy, and volunteerism,” wrote Katherine Ankerson, AIA, dean of UNL’s College of Architecture, in a letter supporting Bacon’s nomination. “I have seen his leadership and mentoring skills as an exceptional embodiment of the architectural profession and its impact on business and the community at large. He embodies the highest attributes of using one’s profession to make life better for others, and does so in a way that encourages and develops others.”