Janet Echelman receives international architecture and engineering prizes

Janet Echelman receives international architecture and engineering prizes

Boston Society of Architects / International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures

September 21, 2023
Janet Echelman receives international architecture and engineering prizes
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Janet Echelman has been announced recipient of two international architecture and engineering awards in 2023 for her artwork, which intersect sculpture, architecture, urban design, material science, computer science, and structural & aeronautical engineering: the Boston Society of ArchitectsHarleston Parker Medal and the Isler Prize of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS).

Echelman’s art transforms with wind and light, and shifts from being an object you look at, into an experience you can get lost in. Using unlikely materials from atomized water particles to engineered fiber fifteen times stronger than steel, Echelman combines ancient craft with computational design software to create artworks that have become focal points for urban life on five continents, from Singapore, Sydney, Shanghai, and Santiago, to Beijing, Boston, New York and London. 

The Boston Society of Architects awarded its highest award for architecture, the Harleston Parker Medal, to Echelman, who is the first artist to receive the award in its 99-year history. Since 1923, the prestigious award annually honors the most beautiful piece of architecture, monument or structure built in the past ten years in the Boston area. This also marks the first time in a century that an ephemeral structure receives the prize. Echelman’s shimmering aerial sculpture As If It Were Already Here is composed of 100 miles of architectural fiber. It was suspended in Boston over the Rose Kennedy Greenway from the 28th story of Philip Johnson’s skyscraper, filling the void created by the removal of a six-lane highway that split the city from its waterfront in the largest public infrastructure project in US history, commonly known as the Big Dig. 

“Revealing the interconnectedness of networked systems—urban, environmental, and human—Echelman’s sculptures visualize the patterning of nature, the unrelenting force of climate change, and a feminist determination to create inclusive spaces that highlight often overlooked or invisible histories. By embracing qualities of porosity and openness, Echelman’s works remain anti-monumental—enveloping rather than occupying the grounds they are built on,” said art historian Gloria Sutton, editor of the monograph to be published in 2024 by Princeton Architectural Press titled Radical Softness: The Responsive Sculpture of Janet Echelman.

For 2023, Echelman is also the recipient of the 2023 Isler Prize for Discovery and Innovation at the intersection of Art, Architecture and Engineering, conferred in 2023 at the IASS Annual Symposium in Melbourne, Australia. 

She is the first to receive the honor, which is awarded every two years to an individual in recognition of work that exemplifies “exploration, realization, discovery and innovation; playfulness and inclusivity; and sustainability and low impact on the environment” which embodies the ideals and accomplishments of the engineer and ‘structural artist’ Heinz Isler (1926–2009). The Isler Prize was established by the Executive Council in 2020 to promote the aims and objectives of the Association to the world body of engineers and architects.   

Echelman’s work ranges from interior sculptures suspended from ceilings which transform with projected light to exterior monumental urban works which transform with wind and light. She is the Mellon Distinguished Visiting Artist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Visiting Professor at the University of Stuttgart. Her TED talk “Taking Imagination Seriously” has been translated into 45 languages and viewed by millions, and her art was ranked number one on Oprah’s list of “50 Things That Make You Say Wow!” More information can also be found here and on Instagram.

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September 21, 2023

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