2022 Edward C. Kemper Award

From 1914 to 1948, Edward C. Kemper led the AIA as executive director. Since 1950, this award has honored members who carry on his legacy of continued and significant service to the AIA.

After witnessing Whitney M. Young Jr.’s groundbreaking Thundering Silence keynote address at the 1968 AIA convention, Bob Berkebile, FAIA, then an intern architect, penned an article that challenged his colleagues and community to form a more inclusive and equitable profession. Throughout the ensuing 53 years, Berkebile has striven to bolster the quality and resilience of all life as his work has grown in intensity and scale.

A student of Buckminster Fuller, Berkebile was introduced to systems thinking and the concept of “Spaceship Earth” early in his career, and his ensuing designs have been intrinsically linked to the health and well-being of larger support systems. His early epiphanies continually shaped his path through the profession, one marked by an eagerness to collaborate in an effort to improve designs and the quality of the built environment.

“Beyond his noble work to ensure the environmental friendliness of architectural projects, Bob has consistently stood out as a strong advocate for equity in design and female leadership,” wrote U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II, in a letter supporting Berkebile’s nomination for the Edward C. Kemper Award. “For over 60 years, Bob has emphasized the importance of health and wellness in relation to architectural design, while making sure to create equitable and inclusive experiences for all people.”

Berkebile is a founding partner of BNIM, the recipient of the 2011 AIA Architecture Firm Award, based in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1981, when the city’s Hyatt Regency skywalks collapsed and killed 114 guests, he had what was the most sobering of his architectural revelations. After a long night of serving as a member of the rescue team, Berkebile emerged with questions about the impact and unintended consequences design has on the people architects serve. In search of answers, he became the founding chair of the AIA’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) with the support of his firm, AIA Kansas City, past presidents, and the first $1 million commitment from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Since its inception, COTE has advanced sustainability to the forefront of design, challenging the profession to address the most pressing environmental concerns through proactive practice. Berkebile was integral in the development of COTE’s Environmental Resource Guide and its Top Ten program, both of which have broadened the committee’s vital reach and impact.

“Bob has always lifted others, insisted on true collaboration, and demonstrated inclusion,” wrote Betsy del Monte, FAIA, COTE’s 2021 chair, in a letter supporting Berkebile’s nomination. “He saw feminine leadership as crucial to the work. His words: ‘We need a more holistic, integrated approach that’s more nurturing. That will take more leadership from women or from the feminine side of all of us.’ The ranks of COTE chairs over time tells the gender diversity story: 12 of 26 have been women.”

Berkebile was also instrumental in the formation of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and promoted the pursuit of sustainability at all levels of the profession, from design to operations. Its establishment spurred a number of important advancements, including the LEED rating system, piloted by BNIM for the Educational Performance & Innovation Center at Montana State University in the late 1990s, and the annual Greenbuild Conference that welcomes design professionals from around the world.

Following a visit to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station in the early 1990s, Berkebile was presented with global climate forecasts that accurately described what the world is experiencing today. That information further reinforced his understanding of the relationship between the design of the built environment and climate change. As an AIA delegate to 1992’s Earth Summit, he helped draft Agenda 21, a comprehensive action plan for sustainable development. These experiences were the foundation for his later contributions to the Living Building Challenge and the REGEN tool, a critical resource in facilitating regenerative design.

Berkebile has long sought to deeply engage communities across the world in support of environmental research and design. He assembled a team of 110 architects, astrophysicists, artists, educators, and others to provide important questions for President Bill Clinton’s Greening of the White House initiative, and he has worked with communities in post-disaster situations in the American South to enact transformational change. His focus on community and environmental resilience continues today, manifesting in initiatives such as the Regenerative Heartland Partnership. A collaboration between three nature- and agriculture-focused organizations, the partnership seeks to radically alter land management and the food system to transfer carbon from the atmosphere to the soil.

“For the last 30 years, Bob has toured the United States to inculcate the design and construction industry about the lasting benefits of a truly ‘green architecture,’” wrote David Lake, FAIA. “Whether lecturing and educating students of architecture or addressing civic leaders, Bob’s passionate voice has forever shifted our profession’s focus from the single art art-driven building to the lasting value of an ecologically sound design process.”


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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Dan Videtich

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Farshid Assassi

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Farshid Assassi

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