“I thought it was a robocall,” James Polshek says about answering the phone to news that he’d won the 2018 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal. “It was a chilly day, and I was walking up 6th Avenue after leaving a chronologically required hearing test, when the phone rang.” Polshek is 87, but could hear the news just fine: “At that point, I kind of lost my breath,” he says. “I was laughing and sobbing simultaneously, with enjoyment, pleasure, and some disbelief.”
A 1955 M.Arch. graduate of Yale University, Polshek founded his eponymous firm in 1963, which evolved through the years to become Ennead Architects in 2010, five years after his retirement. He spoke with RECORD by phone after learning about the AIA award.
Architectural Record: Which projects are you proudest of, and why?
James Polshek: You know the saying, “If you have many children . . .” The most obvious one is perhaps the most nationally prestigious: the Clinton Library. But my two favorites came in succession in 1969 and 1972 and gave me the confidence to pursue the way I wanted to practice. The first was the New York State Bar Association in Albany, which won the 1972 AIA Honor Award for merging a historic building in a historic district with a modernist interpretation. The second is called the Five County Consulting Center in Columbus, Indiana, which solved environmental and ecological problems, as the building is a bridge over a creek that flooded severely. We used some of the foundation budget to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from simply widening the creek. Those two together—and the various themes that connect to later projects—were seminal.
For more about Polshek’s advice for young architects, his firm’s evolution, and ethical codes embedded in his work, read the full story at Architectural Record.