Alumnus Jeff Stein reports on the award ceremony:
Here’s how it was earlier this week at the National Design Awards at the Cooper-Hewitt/Smithsonian Museum in New York City:
it was crowded, noisy, warm, and every man in the place was dressed in BLACK.
First, of course, as with any great awards ceremony, there were DRINKS! And hors doeuvres. In a big tent, blocking 91st Street, in front of the Cooper-Hewitt, folks began to arrive, New Yorkers mostly, a little reticent to approach Soleri who was looking very smart in his formal-wear. Except for official photographers who would lead him away from time to time for portraits.
A good interview is in this month’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Journal, multiple copies of which were available to party-goers. There were around 500 of those. There was President Roger Mandle of Brown University, chair of the National Design Awards this year. And architect Richard Meier. And Rev. Howard Moody; he is with us, as is Dino DeConcini. And there’s my neighbor Martha Schwartz, landscape architect from Cambridge. And Diane von Furstenberg.
Photo: Alumnus Doug Lee’s daughter Sonya, all grown up, congratulates the award-winner.
No one was reticent about approaching Jim Labioda. “Pardon me,” said a tall woman. “Are you Governor Pataki?” “No, Ma’am,” said Labioda, resplendent in a tuxedo that we believe had once been worn by economist John Kenneth Galbraith. “That man right there?” he said, pointing to Roger Tomalty, “I’m his assistant.”
By 7:30PM the drinks tent was full of celebrants; no one could move or breathe, a hint that it was time to traipse through the museum lobby and into the dinner tent set-up to cover the garden courtyard of the Museum. 55 tables of 9, black tablecloths, black stemware, bright red goody-bags, six giant video screens, and slinkys, that springy child’s toy, as decoration everywhere. Paolo was in the middle of the room at a table of award recipients, seated next to architect Thom Mayne’s wife, who was in a backless and low-cut gown, accepting an award on behalf of her husband who was in Paris instead of here.
Food began to arrive at the tables, and wine; and speeches and video began to flow from the dias. In no time it was dessert and the award presentations. Spike Lee presented an award, mentioning that the Mets were up 1 to 0, bottom of the third. And Robert Downey Jr. said something cheerful about a young award recipient. Awards and their presentors move light and fast.
Photo: Alumnus Jim Labioda and Arcosanti planning intern Mario Nuzzolese.
Then Milton Glaser presents the Lifetime Achievement Award to Paolo. Glaser actually knows Soleri, understands the work, admires it all. This shows. The crowd, which till now was not thinking about much, slows down, quiets. And Paolo has a few things to say to this crowd, too. About architecture, about religion as dramaturgy, about our responsibility to the future. Paolo’s closeup is live on all the big video screens, his voice miked throughout the giant tent. And then someone hands him the award, a kind of extruded star a foot long made of some mystery material, and its over. Everyone toasts the winners with champaigne, some folks gather up slinkys (I think we’ll be seeing a few of these at Arcosanti), and now, with the ice broken at last, people do come up to Paolo to talk.
More desserts and socializing and drinks (witnessing awards is thirsty work!) in the Museum which has thoughtfully opened its bookstore to the crowd.
And night settles on the city. Thursday morning, the sun rises over the Atlantic to shine on Paolo Soleri, winner of the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Photo: Daniela Soleri, daughter of Paolo Soleri, and Roger Tomalty, sans tie, emitting good cheer.