The President’s Medal is The Architectural League’s highest honor and is bestowed, at the discretion of the League’s President and Board of Directors, to recognize extraordinary achievements in architecture, urbanism, art, design, and the environment.
On June 1, 2020, Architectural League President Paul Lewis presented the 2020 President’s Medal to Andrew Freear, director of Rural Studio, Auburn University’s off-campus design-build program located in Newbern, Alabama. The League honored Andrew Freear as an educator whose deeply considered, widely influential model of architectural pedagogy has enriched and intensified the training of more than 1,000 students, helping them develop as “citizen architects” prepared to use design as a tool for social good.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing guidelines in effect through the spring of 2020, the League hosted its medal ceremony in a live online program. Following a video presentation recognizing Rural Studio’s many achievements and featuring tributes from alumni, collaborators, and supporters, Freear was joined in conversation by Billie Tsien, founding partner of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners, and Marlon Blackwell, Professor and Chair of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas.
In his presentation of the Medal, Paul Lewis read the following citation:
Through his almost two decades of leadership at Auburn University’s Rural Studio, Andrew Freear has created a complex and challenging understanding of what architecture can be and can do. Rural Studio engages some of the most difficult questions in our society—systemic racism, poverty, the degradation of the rural landscape—and shows how architecture can be an instrument of care, bringing together science, technology, craft, and art to support and give form to our common humanity. Andrew Freear challenges students to contribute to a better society, by creating truly exceptional buildings and places in deep collaboration with the diverse local community. Through its civic projects, new approaches to housing, restorative food systems, and materials research, Rural Studio has become an exemplary model of architectural education. It defines through its work what every architect, and every citizen, must embrace: the ethical responsibility for the social, political, and environmental consequences of their actions in the world.
In his remarks, Andrew Freear said:
I like to be a champion for the local….Rural challenges are as interesting as urban challenges, and I think that these challenges deserve everyone’s attention. I hope that the rural isn’t just seen as an extraction landscape, but as a place of opportunity and potential like we’ve seen it….
I do hope that the underlying message of the award is heard: that place really does matter and that everyone, both rich and poor, deserves the benefit of good, dignified, equitable design, whether they can afford it or not.