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A Trio of Exhibitions Organized by the National Building Museum

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Unbuilt Washington
November 19, 2011 - May 28, 2012

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Unbuilt: A Trio of Exhibitions

Although Unbuilt Washington will close in late May, two other exhibitions related to the theme of unbuilt work will open earlier in the month. Both are organized by the National Building Museum but will be presented in other venues in central Washington, D.C. All three exhibitions will be on view in mid-May when the national convention of the American Institute of Architects comes to Washington for the first time in 21 years.

Predicting the Future of Architecture Through Unbuilt Work

In 1953, the editors of Progressive Architecture (P/A) magazine established an annual awards program to recognize noteworthy, unbuilt projects. The editors’ initial goal was to lend credibility to potentially important works that were still in the design development phase, when they were especially vulnerable to compromise due to financial and other pressures. Beginning with the publication of the first round of winners in January 1954, however, it was clear that the program served a much broader purpose as a bellwether of emerging trends in architectural design. Over the course of its 58-year history, the awards program has advanced the careers of talented young designers, provided impetus for the realization of daring projects, and often altered the course of architectural debate.

Progressive Architecture ceased publication in 1996, when it was bought by Architecture magazine. That magazine was purchased in turn by Hanley Wood, which re-launched it as ARCHITECT, now the official magazine of the American Institute of Architects. It is a testament to the significance of the P/A Awards that they have endured despite these changes.

Unbuilt→Built: The Influence of the Progressive Architecture Awards presents 25 past P/A Award winners—all of them subsequently built—tracing some of the emerging trends in architectural design and planning that the program has so effectively illuminated. They bear witness to changing attitudes toward structural expression, materiality, and symbolism in late 20th- and early 21st-century architecture. Taken together, these 25 projects constitute a mini-history of cutting-edge design from the 1950s to the present.

Unbuilt→Built: The Influence of the Progressive Architecture Awards will be on view at the American Institute of Architects headquarters, 1735 New York Avenue, NW, from May 14 through August 31, 2012. For opening hours, call (202) 626-7300 or visit http://www.aia.org/about_contact/index.htm.

Recognizing Potential in Projects by Washington-Area Designers

The annual design award programs sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and its local, state, and regional chapters offer coveted recognition of outstanding works of architecture. Not surprisingly, such award programs typically are limited to completed buildings. Unexecuted architectural projects, which sometimes represent significant design achievements in their own right and may exercise profound influence on future work, are generally ineligible.

In 2009, in the midst of the global economic crisis that brought many building projects to a halt, the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA|DC) created a new awards program to recognize significant unbuilt projects by local design professionals and students. Could Be: The AIA|DC Awards for Unbuilt Architecture presents winners from the first four years of the program, including both purely theoretical proposals and unexecuted commissioned projects. These projects reflect the breadth and depth of recent work by Washington-area architects and designers. They range in scale and type from minimal, post-disaster housing units to major urban redevelopment corridors, from a modest chapel to an entire university campus.

The main title of the exhibition is intended as a reminder that unbuilt works represent potential. Indeed, some of the Unbuilt Award winners included in the exhibition are now under construction, and a few have been completed. Even if a specific proposal is never realized, however, it continues to serve as a reminder of possibilities for the future—of what Could Be.

Could Be: The AIA|DC Awards for Unbuilt Architecture will be on view at the new District Architecture Center, 421 7th Street, NW, from May 3 through June 30, 2012. For opening hours, call (202) 347-9403 or visit http://aiadac.com/plan-your-visit/directions-hours.

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