Society of Architectural Historians: First Annual Awards

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The Society of Architectural Historians honors the past and future of the Charnley-Persky House.

When the Charnley-Persky House, a Sullivan-Wright-designed national landmark, celebrates its 120th anniversary with a gala on November 10, there will be champagne and cake – and of course, presents. But the Charnley-Persky House will share the occasion with another event – the launch of a new award program by the Society of Architectural Historians. The Society has been the steward of the Charnley-Persky House since 1995, when it was purchased and donated by Seymour H. Persky. Since then, the Charnley-Persky House has served as SAH's national headquarters as well as a center for design-based educational outreach, inquiry and collaboration. The three SAH awards to be inaugurated at the upcoming gala continue the mission of the organization and the house by honoring excellence in design-related professions.

The awards include:

1) The SAH Award for Excellence in Design, Planning and Sustainability is honoring Philip J. Enquist, of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill LLP for scripting AVision for the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence River Region which addresses the phenomenal increase in human population, the impacts of urbanization, and the threats of climate change. Fittingly, the Charnley-Persky House was restored by SOM to serve as the location for SOM's Chicago Institute for Architecture & Urbanism. It is, in part, thanks to SOM that the house is able to celebrate 120 years and is such a brilliant example of the unique history of Chicago's Gold Coast.

2) The SAH Award for Excellence in Architectural Media has two honorees: Gwendolyn Wright and Geoffrey Baer. Gwendolyn Wright is an associate professor of Architecture & Planning at Columbia University and host of the popular PBS series, "History Detectives." Geoffrey Baer is a producer and program host at PBS-affiliate WTTW in Chicago and is currently filming a nationally-syndicated program, "Ten Buildings that Changed America."

3) The SAH Award for Excellence in Architectural Conservation is honoring architect John Eifler, principal, Eifler and Associates Architects for his continued restoration of Charnley-Persky House and for his work on greening historic structures.

SAH executive director Pauline Saliga notes, "The SAH mission of making man-made structures and landscapes relevant to contemporary cultural life is increasingly important. Our inaugural SAH Awards for Excellence celebrate pivotal contributions to design made in the fields of architecture, media, landscape design, urban planning, preservation, restoration and public education."

As part of SAH's commitment to supporting design related fields and the Charnley-Persky House, the organization is also planning a two-pronged strategy for effective stewardship of its headquarters. The first is to continue to restore the historic fabric, with an emphasis on sustainability. The second is to expand its programming to raise its profile and welcome even more visitors.

Charnley-Persky House has a unique architectural pedigree: it was designed by Louis Sullivan with Frank Lloyd Wright as his chief draftsman. This exemplary Chicago School building shows the hand of both iconic architects, and is one of only two such important buildings that are open to the public (the other is Chicago's Auditorium Theater). "The 120th anniversary gives us an opportunity to examine the issues facing the house now and to plan for its future," says executive director Pauline Saliga.

Gala honoree John Eifler will lead the next renovation of the house. He is developing a multi-phased plan for making Charnley-Persky House energy efficient and sustainable for the future. Improvements will include adding new types of insulation, sealing off energy leaks in historic windows and fireplaces, adding water permeable paving behind the house, and redirecting rainwater and gray water from the sewer system. Eifler feels that geothermal wells in the adjacent driveway would also be a wise investment.

One of the most important aspects of preserving the house is encouraging greater awareness and use of the building. The house already serves a dual role as workplace and house museum, and is open for public tours on Saturdays and Wednesdays as well as lectures and events. Future plans for expanding programming in the house include transforming the library/living room into a study center and the dining room into a conference center for small groups.

The Charnley-Persky House is an early example of innovations in spatial planning that Wright would further develop in his Prairie School homes. SAH's ongoing stewardship will assure the continued relevance of the building that Frank Lloyd Wright called "the first modern house in America."

It is SAH's sincere hope that these inaugural awards will heighten awareness of its worldwide educational mission, and enhance SAH's relevance to the architectural community. Charnley-Persky House is the fulcrum for SAH's past, present and future – a cornerstone for recognition and celebration. For more about the Awards Gala on November 10, in Chicago, contact SAH at membership@sah.org. TB