Since 1969, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has annually given its Twenty-five Year Award to one single built work by a US-licensed architect that has set a precedent or contributed to architectural significance that has “stood the test of time for 25–35 years.” There have been two years in which the award was not granted: 1970—when the AIA board moved to make the award annual, and this year, 2018. Among other reasons provided for not granting an award this year, the AIA states, “unfortunately, this year the jury did not find a submission that it felt achieved twenty-five years of exceptional aesthetic and cultural relevance while also representing the timelessness and positive impact the profession aspires to achieve.”
Unfortunate, indeed. For those of us in historic preservation or architectural history circles, one realizes that taste moves in cycles. This has held true for any range of design styles once deemed of a lesser standard: Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and certain strains of Mid-Century Modernism, among them. Gaining acceptance years later, such works never fell from favor again. That the proper lens exists at 25 years to assign historic significance is arguable. But at this point can we, at the very least, objectively take stock of near-past designs and their features? For this Dispatch, the lack of a 2018 Twenty-five Year Award is the jumping-off point for something else: a context and preservation dialogue about 1990s architecture. The Award’s 25-35 year eligibility range squarely coincides with the period when buildings become vulnerable- to wear, deferred maintenance, the changing tastes of a property owner, or the changing tastes of a market and its short-sighted renovations. It follows that their character defining features, starting with the most ephemeral, are altered or destroyed well before the 50-year mark set in 1966 by the National Park Service as the threshold for attaining historical perspective, and therefore landmark listing and protection. Untold buildings, some once remarkable, arrive at the 50-year point hobbled by alterations, rendering their future survival tenuous.
With all of the above in mind, Docomomo US asked me to guest-edit this Dispatch, based on my twenty years’ experience in preservation and expertise of recent past architecture. This publication is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather provides vignettes to introduce, contextualize, and identify character-defining features of 1990s-era architecture. This publication specifically focuses upon twenty-five years ago: 1993, as a vignette for its decade.