2022 AIA Award for Excellence in Public Architecture

Great public architecture embodies the identity and values of a society. This award, formerly known as the Thomas Jefferson Award, was established in 1992 to recognize the importance of public officials or individuals who by their role and advocacy have furthered the public’s awareness and appreciation of design excellence in public architecture.

For more than 30 years, Robert Eisenstat, FAIA, an enthusiastic advocate for public spaces, has demonstrated the important, but often overlooked, role excellent transportation architecture plays in our daily lives. As the design leader for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he has amassed an impressive and vital portfolio of essential projects that serve everyone. His work highlights the importance of architects in shaping the public realm.

“Throughout his more than two decades of practice, Rob’s career has been dedicated to elevating the importance of design excellence in the realm of transportation and infrastructure,” Richard Dattner, FAIA, wrote in a letter nominating Eisenstat for the AIA Award for Excellence in Public Architecture. “His contributions and dynamic spirit continue to push the standards of design for transportation and infrastructure as the national conversation around infrastructure grows.”

Following 15 years in private practice in the United States and Brazil, in 1990 Eisenstat joined the Port Authority, a unique public agency that provides a public benefit to millions of residents and visitors in the greater New York City region on a daily basis. As the organization’s chief architect, a position he assumed in 2013, Eisenstat oversees a team of architects and specialty consultants, all focused on raising the profile of the authority’s projects. In championing public-private collaborations and partnerships, he has delivered extensive and complex projects that improve transit and radically transform neighborhoods.

Eisenstat has overseen major projects such as the $10 billion master plan to replace the outdated and undersized Port Authority Bus Terminal, the most heavily used facility of its type in the world. In addition, he served on the selection committee for the LaGuardia Airport Redevelopment Program, a $3.6 billion effort to modernize one of the country’s busiest airports. Following the catastrophic September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, Eisenstat led downtown Manhattan’s transportation planning and reintroduced PATH commuter rail service at the World Trade Center.

“I have seen him rise to the top architectural position at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey: the chief architect. As a private sector architect, I have great admiration and respect for his achievements as a public architect,” wrote Jeffrey Dugan, FAIA, in support of Eisenstat’s nomination.

“His tireless advocacy for design on large airport and public transit rail projects as well as small critical infrastructure components has yielded design excellence from planners, engineers, and architects like me.” - Jeffrey Dugan, FAIA

Since 2007, Eisenstat has served as a co-chair of AIA New York’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, promoting a deeper understanding and engagement in design quality and innovation for both the profession and the public. Through the alliances he forged with design professionals and technical experts from around the world, Eisenstat has nurtured a vast knowledge network through which invaluable experience and expertise are shared. Additionally, he envisions and leads a wide range of programs for architects, allied professionals, and the public that foreground an awareness of the role architects play in promoting the health of cities.  

During the 2018 AIA Conference on Architecture, he led tours of the George Washington Bridge Bus Station and the World Trade Center. He also developed and moderated “The Post-9/11 Lower Manhattan Transportation Vision-Planned and Realized,” a program that drew hundreds of attendees. In that same year, he initiated AIA New York’s Transportation and Infrastructure Design Awards to recognize excellence in a typology commonly led by engineers.

Eisenstat’s contributions to the profession have been recognized many times, including his receipt of AIA New York’s Harry Rutkins Award for service to AIA in 2020 and the chapter’s Public Architect Award in 2014. He was elevated to the College of Fellows in 2017.

“Through Rob’s unique ability to exchange ideas at an international level and promote initiatives that have a global impact, he has pushed the limits of traditional transportation infrastructure,” Luis Vidal, AIA, wrote in a letter. “Architects are tasked with being problem-solvers and community builders. Rob exceeds that expectation, generating ideas that impact the global landscape.”

Jury

Ryan Gann, Assoc. AIA, Chair, Chicago

Shannon Gathings, Assoc. AIA, Duvall Decker Architects, P.A., Ridgeland, Miss.

Joseph Mayo, AIA, Mahlum, Seattle

Katie Swenson, Assoc. AIA, MASS Design Group, Boston

Image credits

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Rafael Fuchs

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John Bartlestone

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Ernest Burden III/Acme Digital

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Jacobs

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John Bartlestone