Divine Details

Blair Kamin scoops everyone on the 2008 AIA Chicago awards, which are to be handed out tonight. (Evidently suspense isn't an attraction of the event.) The co-winner of the AIA/C's equivalent of the Best Picture Oscar, the Honor Award, is Krueck & Sexton's Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. A Citation of Merit, a sort of silver medal, goes to a data center by Sheehan Partners in design-challenged Elk Grove Village. There are also awards for an unbuilt design, for interior design, and "divine detail," which recognizes an excellent detail rather than an entire building. For instance, Rafael Viñoly won for his Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago, but they don't say which detail won. (Maybe that's the suspense.) An even more puzzling award goes to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in the unbuilt design category for the Los Angeles River. The river is already built–in fact, it's hard to believe this concrete slab river was once a free-flowing waterway. Does this mean SOM managed to unbuild the river, which a lot of people want to happen?

Architecture is supposed to be a precision discipline, but the AIA/C's award names are terribly vague. What's the difference between an "honor award" and "a citation of merit"?
Then there's the "special recognition" category for buildings that aren't quite special enough to win a citation of merit or an honor award. And what is an architect supposed to make of an award for a "divine detail"? What's wrong with the rest of the building?  If their award names can't be more descriptive, at least they should be snappier, like the Frank or the Louis.

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