On May 4, 2015, The Architectural League of New York presented its President’s Medal to Henry N. Cobb, a founding partner of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. 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 an extraordinary body of work in architecture, urbanism, art, or design.
Recent recipients of the President’s Medal include Richard Serra, Renzo Piano, Amanda Burden, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, Hugh Hardy, Richard Meier, Ada Louise Huxtable, Robert A.M. Stern, Kenneth Frampton, Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.
The Medal was presented to Cobb at a dinner at the Metropolitan Club for over 300 guests. Harvard University President Emeritus Neil Rudenstine, architects Merrill Elam and Mack Scogin, and engineer Guy Nordenson made remarks celebrating Cobb’s built work, writing, and impact on architectural education.
In presenting the award, Architectural League President Billie Tsien remarked:
There’s a lovely moment that happens from time to time when you look at a person’s face and you can see exactly what they looked like as a child. It is fleeting, and it is very beautiful. Now, often that look happens when curiosity is sparked and with it a sense of wonder. I have been lucky enough to spend some time with Harry, and I have seen that look. He is a person with a great curiosity and a tenacious sense of wonder, and the generosity of a child’s smile.
She then read the following citation:
The Architectural League awards its President’s Medal to Henry N. Cobb, with admiration for the truly consequential work he has created as designer, educator, thinker, writer, and leader. We are inspired by his decades-long passion for the art of architecture; by his analytic rigor, manifest in subtle and articulate buildings and penetrating readings of history and place; by the broad and profoundly informed humanist culture that suffuses his writings and approach to education; and by the unbounded curiosity and delight he takes in new ideas, new work, and new talent. Henry N. Cobb embodies that combination of capability and conviction — artistic, intellectual, practical, and civic — that defines the ideal architect.
Henry Cobb addressed the guests with the following remarks:
Thank you, Billie; and thank you, Neil, Mack, Merrill, and Guy for your kind words. The truth is that I cannot now find the words that would adequately express my appreciation for the honor being done to me here this evening. So I hope you will forgive me if I change the subject and say a word or two instead about The Architectural League. What has always seemed to me most admirable in the League’s multifaceted mission is its dedication to seeking out and providing a platform for gifted young practitioners who are doing innovative work, not just in New York but all across North America. This commitment to youth is embodied most notably in the Emerging Voices program and the League Prize for Young Architects and Designers — two splendid initiatives, both now well into their fourth decade, in which I have been privileged to participate on several occasions as a jury member.
This evening’s event, with its medal presentation and words of praise for an architect halfway through his seventh decade of practice, may not on its face seem to augment that commitment to youth; and yet in a very real sense it does. For the generosity of so many friends of the League, as evidenced by your presence here, provides essential support for those programs that I so much admire. And this somehow relieves the anxiety of being an honoree, so that I am able to fully enjoy the warmth of this occasion and join happily with all of you in celebrating the important work that The Architectural League has done for one hundred and thirty-four years — and continues to do — in advancing our profession and our art. Thank you very much.
On the occasion of the event, the League published a booklet that includes ten short excerpts from Cobb’s writings on architecture and the university; audacity; Boston; ethics and architecture; the art of architecture; the city; the design studio; the erasure of history; the practice of architecture; and the Tower and the Church.
Proceeds from the dinner help support the programs of The Architectural League.