One of our first stops on Day 2 of the 2012 AIA Committee on Design Spring Conference in Columbus, Indiana was a tour of the interior of Lincoln Elementary School. We were privileged to have Gunnar Birkerts himself lead us through the spaces of the school. It was clear that Mr. Birkerts was moved when he discovered this handmade sign during the tour, which reads, “We LOVE our building! Thank you Mr. Birkerts.” Soon after finding the sign, he popped into the adjacent classroom to chat with the young students and their teacher. He received a warm reception and I found it very heartwarming how starstruck some of the students appeared (a handful approached Mr. Birkerts later to ask him for his autograph).
Throughout the conference, we discussed how to define architectural design excellence. I think the experience we had at Lincoln Elementary School that day is one good addition to the discussion. I learned later, during the parlor chat with Gunnar Birkerts, that when working toward design excellence, you are not necessarily searching for affirmation or praise. “They are after the fact,” Mr. Birkerts says of design awards. On the other hand, I cannot think of a more rewarding experience for an architect than to revisit a building he created and see people enjoying the space 40 years after its completion.