The Alvar Aalto Medal, one of the most internationally significant architecture prizes, marks its 50th anniversary this year. The prize bearing Aalto’s name is one of the most important honours bestowed on architects worldwide. The prize, which has been awarded since 1967, was presented for the 13th time at a jubilee seminar at Finlandia Hall on September 12, 2017.
The medal was presented by the Alvar Aalto Foundation, the Museum of Finnish Architecture, the Architectural Society, the Finnish Association of Architects SAFA and the City of Helsinki. This year’s award was handed out by Helsinki Deputy Mayor Anni Sinnemäki, with Professor Juhani Pallasmaa as the keynote speaker.
The winner of the 2017 Alvar Aalto Medal is Chinese architect Zhang Ke (born 1970). He graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1998 and established ZAO/ standardarchitecture in 2001. This firm is one of China’s leading producers of contemporary architecture. Zhang Ke’s work was exhibited at the 2016 Venice Biennale of Architecture. His architecture has also been shown at Berlin’s Aedes Architecture Forum, the MAK Museum Vienna and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Zhang Ke has also served as visiting lecturer at Helsinki Design Week in 2010 and 2016.
The Alvar Aalto Medal jury decided in this anniversary year to focus particularly on up-and-coming young architects. In granting the award, the jury also emphasised four criteria: creativity in the architecture, sustainable development in its execution, excellence of design and the ability to place the architecture in a frame of reference that honours Aalto’s legacy.
Alvar Aalto Medal jubilee year winner impressed the jury with his sustainable architecture
In his work, Zhang Ke prefers to use local building materials and techniques, while he favours recycling over demolishing. In its statement, the jury notes that Zhang Ke’s work uses historic references to serve the preservation of traditions. By combining landscape elements in his work, Zhang Ke is able to subtly fit his architecture into the surrounding terrain, creating harmonious relationships between landscape and architecture. His vision of architecture is motivated by the satisfaction the user experiences and the sense of architecture at a human scale.
His architectural language is contemporary yet quiet and considerate of its environment. The jury also wishes to emphasise that in a time of worldwide political unrest, the medal’s jubilee year should be dedicated to humanism in architecture. The legacy of architecture is to serve the reinforcement of communal values. Aalto’s timeless idea of architecture as a unifying force in society remains worthy of attention, particularly in the present day.
The chair of the 2017 jury was Japanese-born architect Toshiko Mori. Over the past three decades her New York office, Toshiko Mori Architect, has earned many awards while creating innovative architecture that takes precise account of its environment. Mori also holds a professorship at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
The other members of the jury were Tina Saaby, Asmo Jaaksi and Vesa Oiva. Saaby, the City Architect of Copenhagen since 2010, also chairs the Royal Danish Academy of Arts advisory board. Jaaksi is a co-founder of the architectural firm JKMM Architects. Oiva established the architectural firm Anttinen Oiva Arkkitehdit Oy, which has earned a reputation for user-friendly architecture, particularly through architectural competitions.
For further details and press images:
Salla Bedard / Museum of Finnish Architecture
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