Once upon a time, architects had another name. They were “master builders”, a figure of great importance during Renaissance times who would oversee construction of grand cathedrals, mansions and castles across Europe and beyond. The idea of an architect as a singular, technical genius solidified during those times, and has persisted until very recently through another moniker, arguably architecture’s most overused buzzword: “Starchitect”.
Finally, things are beginning to change. Thanks to the dynamism of today’s innovative design teams, the architectural profession is starting to release itself from the shackles of those dated clichés. Architecture is increasingly being recognized as the collaborative field it’s always been, a fact reflected by the incredible response to Architizer’s major new awards program.
Accepting entries until December 11th, the A+Firm Awards has been launched to celebrate not the Starchitects, but the star teams that combine to make great architecture a reality.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, large firms had something of a monopoly on architectural media, when Architects’ Journal and Architect Magazine were about the only options available for architects to showcase their work. This all began to change with the advent of new architectural media platforms like Architizer. Architect Chris Precht, the cofounder of talented studio PRECHT (formerly Penda), reflected on this evolution when discussing the A+Awards back in 2016.
“When I still was a student, it seemed that there was this distance between us and the star architects that was really, really huge,” said Precht. “They were very difficult to reach; they were very difficult to get in touch with. I think that, for our generation, the age at which you can be a known architect is getting much younger, thanks to new technology and through media publications. Young offices now have a chance to somehow catch up to the elite in architecture.”
The A+Firm Awards was introduced to break down these barriers even further. With award categories separated by size, small and medium firms around the world have an opportunity to be recognized on an equal footing with large, global practices. Each winner will see their projects in print in a new book by Phaidon, gaining that sought after “in-print” status that was once the exclusive domain of firms with hundreds of employees and a mega marketing budget.
The program also aims to break architecture out of its geographic echo chamber, celebrating innovative firms from diverse regions around the world. For a long time, North American and Asian architects dominated industry media — and accolades such as the Pritzker Prize. While this has now begun to change for the better, the A+Firm Awards is designed to change things further still.
The regional award categories, rewarding the best firm on each continent, are destined to provide a global audience with new insights into architectural innovation taking place in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Central and South America, Europe and North America. It promises to be a truly global celebration, uncovering modern vernacular architecture designed by firms with an intimate understanding of their local region, culture and people.
Finally, it is vitally important for the profession and the wider world to understand architecture as a product of collaboration. While architects are key to the creation of successful buildings, they cannot practice their craft without the complementary skills of engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, developers and architectural photographers.
The specialization award categories are dedicated to these crucial consultants and collaborators, as well as providing opportunities for architecture firms that specialize in public projects, small projects and sustainable design. The niche skills and technical expertise of these companies will be celebrated in the Phaidon Book alongside the work of the world’s most renowned architecture firms, and feature in year-round coverage on Architizer.
This is what being a modern architecture firm is all about. To remain relevant, architects must relish collaborating with other experts, sharing knowledge to benefit everyone involved in the lifecycle of a project. They must continually adapt their own skill set to maintain their value in an ever-changing social and environmental landscape, and constantly look for ways in which design can better serve both clients and whole communities.
The architecture firms who foster these philosophies and reinforce them throughout their organization can thrive throughout the next decade and beyond. This is what the A+Firm Awards program will celebrate — and we can’t wait to see the incredible teams that triumph this year.
There’s still time to enter the inaugural A+Firm Awards! Submit your firm before Midnight ET on December 11th, 2020 for a shot at international publication and global recognition.
Top image: The Third Place by Penda / PRECHT, 2016 A+Awards Emerging Firm of the Year; image via Behance