The trouble with being a visionary is sometimes you have to wait 30 years forthe rest of the world to catch up to you. That's the case with Sim Van der Ryn, this year's Hall of Fame Leadership Award winner. He's experiencing a resurgence of interest in his ideas, which entwine ecology, biology, and architecture. Nature, he believes, is architecture's greatest collaborator. Thirty years ago, then-Governor Jerry Brown appointed Van der Ryn California's State Architect, encouraging him to establish energy standards for its government buildings. What a time it was. Three decades later, the General Services Administration is finally awakening to the need for energy conservation.
Van der Ryn hasn't been idle during the environmental dark ages; he's been slowly but surely lighting candles. He's designed a number of groundbreaking energy-efficient buildings, contributed his wisdom to the U.S. Green Building Council, and inspired scores of architecture students at Cal Berkeley to dedicate themselves to green design. As the mainstream begins to rediscover him, Van der Ryn remains resolutely ahead of the pack. He's not happy to simply do less harm in the buildings he designs; he intends them to heal the damage that's come before them. Restorative and regenerative are the words he uses to describe his architecture's ultimate goals. The word style never passes his lips, but beauty does. The greatest examples of beauty and the most innovative forms in our world come from nature, he says. He's not satisfied with the punier ambitions of sustainable and green design. He wants the profession to abandon "egotecture" entirely for the higher purpose of "ecotecture."
Our Top Firm winner, Frank Harmon, FAIA, also aspires to bury ego, to clear the way for unfiltered observation and unsullied response. He eschews a subjective style for a more objective aesthetic driven by site, client, and climate. Nature is the great collaborator in his work, too, giving it specificity and authenticity. Like Van der Ryn, Harmon has a vision as well. He strives for an architecture intimately linked to its place, its occupants, and its time.
Rising Star David Hacin's context is dominated by the built environment. Working within the dense urban fabric of Boston, he dodges preconceived notions of what existing buildings should look like and the purposes they can serve as he rehabilitates them. And he's unafraid to expose the timeline of interventions -- this part happened yesterday and it's lovely, and look at what we built today. Old and new can derive vitality and strength from each other. Like Van der Ryn and Harmon, he refuses the dictatorial constraints of a prescribed style.
What does it take to be a visionary? Perhaps it's not the ability to predict the future, but the knack for comprehending the present more clearly and identifying connections others miss. Visionaries look beyond the artificial boundaries established by those of more limited perception. And despite protests to the contrary, they probably apply a dose of ego to strengthen their purpose and bolster their conviction. There's no way we can entirely banish self from expression, nor should we unless we wish to live in a bland, homogenous world. But like all that we admire in nature and architecture, balance and proportion are everything.
Comments? Call: 202.736. 3312; write: S. Claire Conroy, residential architect, One Thomas Circle, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.