AIA awards 2019 Topaz Medallion to Toshiko Mori

Photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

The Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Toshiko Mori has been named the 2019 winner of the AIA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education, an award granted by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Association of the Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), considered the highest honor given to educators in architecture. The AIA has been granting this award to individuals for their dedication to education and influence on students of architecture since 1976.

Mori is currently Robert P. Hubbard Professor in the Practice of Architecture at the GSD, where in 1995 she was the first woman to earn tenure. Mori also served as Chair of the GSD’s Department of Architecture from 2002 to 2008. She is principal of Toshiko Mori Architect, which she established in 1981 in New York City.

The AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion honors an individual who has been intensely involved in architecture education for more than a decade and whose teaching has influenced a broad range of students.

“With feet planted firmly in two realms, academia and practice, Mori challenges her students to become educator-practitioners themselves, harnessing academic inquiry and professional rigor to reshape the practice of architecture,” the AIA writes. “Mori embarked on her teaching career at the Cooper Union School of Architecture in 1983 at the invitation of then-dean John Hejduk. At the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where she continues to teach today, Mori became the first female faculty member to receive tenure in 1995 and the first and only to serve as chair of the school’s architecture department.

Mori's Center for Maine Contemporary Art. Photo courtesy Center for Maine Contemporary Art
Mori’s Center for Maine Contemporary Art. Photo courtesy Center for Maine Contemporary Art

“Mori’s teaching philosophy is one rooted in respect for individual talent, teased out with sensitive guidance and productive dialogue,” the AIA continues. “At Harvard, she has coordinated core studios, served as thesis director, and led courses on textiles and fabrication methods. In her current role as Robert P. Hubbard Professor in the Practice of Architecture, she leads advanced seminars and travels with students across the world, from Finland to Senegal, encouraging the consideration of local contexts and community interests in their work.”

Mori’s honor marks the second consecutive awarding of the Topaz Medallion to a GSD faculty member; Jorge Silvetti, Nelson Robinson Jr. Professor of Architecture and another former architecture chair, received the 2018 award.

“Toshiko is an indefatigable advocate of architecture in the broader halls of academia and a formidable institution builder whose determination, patience, and hard work have earned her the broad respect and admiration in academia at large, in the profession, and wherever she has been called to represent architecture,” wrote Silvetti in a letter supporting Mori’s nomination.

A graduate of the Cooper Union, Mori started her career working with Edward Larrabee Barnes. She has served as a visiting faculty member at Columbia University and Yale University. In 2009, she established VisionArc, a think tank dedicated to addressing the role of design in social and environmental issues.

“Toshiko the educator exercises the same generosity towards the students as she does her colleagues and imbues each conversation or review with empathy that very few architectural critics have,” wrote Hashim Sarkis, dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and Planning, in a letter supporting Mori’s nomination. “What is unique about her teaching is the way she establishes open conversations with modern architecture through specific inquiries into specific projects, which then open up ideas to develop and evolve.”

The Topaz Medallion honor caps another eventful year for Mori and her practice. Last May, the Harvard Gazette offered a personal look at Mori’s life, career, and influences in a wide-ranging profile.