Massimo and Lella Vignelli

2011 President's Medal honorees

March 18, 2011

All photos: Joan Cuenco. All rights reserved.

The President’s Medal of the Architectural League is presented to recognize extraordinary contributions to architecture and design.

Massimo and Lella Vignelli are awarded the 2011 President’s Medal in recognition of a body of work so influential that it has shaped the very way we see the world, and so perfectly conceived and executed in its specifics that each encounter with a Vignelli object or book or sign or space is a moment of delight. The integrity and consistency of Massimo and Lella Vignelli’s work, their commitment to the essential, the timeless, the rational, and the beautiful, inspires now and will continue to inspire long into the future.

Recent recipients of the President’s Medal include Hugh HardyRichard MeierAda Louise HuxtableKenneth FramptonTod Williams and Billie Tsien, Robert A.M. Stern, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

Architectural League President Annabelle Selldorf made the following remarks when presenting the President’s Medal to Lella and Massimo Vignelli on March 18, 2011:

As President of the Architectural League of New York, I am especially happy to award Massimo and Lella Vignelli with the President’s Medal. We bestow it in recognition of their design work executed for more than 45 years in the U.S. In deference to our honorees, I will be brief. I will speak, I hope, as they design, in a modernist, minimal, seemingly effortless manner. I will talk sans serif.

The Vignelli’s career has been devoted to demonstrating that design and architecture are integrated endeavors. They have shown that graphics, industrial design, interior design, furniture, clothing, jewelry and architecture are all one collective enterprise. Their contributions to design in the U.S. began when they arrived in New York in the mid-1960s. One wouldn’t presume to say that America in those days was a backwater of design. But let’s say it lacked the Vignelli approach: modernismo and sprezzatura (that is, craft without visible effort). They displayed it first in their work for Unimark, and then when they opened their own New York office in 1971.

Both Massimo and Lella were trained as architects—he at the Milan Polytechnic and the School of Architecture at the University of Venice—and Lella at the School of Architecture at the University of Venice. As trained architects who were committed to industrial, graphic, and product design, they knew that these disciplines should not be split. Before the computer took over, they realized that the tendency to stay in one’s discipline led to over-specialization. They crossed “platforms” before that term became bandied about in the digital age. The Vignellis taught architects how to see, communicate—and made them want to read—by working with such disparate entities as the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (from the late 1960s to the early 1980s) and Architectural Record (in the 1980s and 1990s).

The two have stood for design created with function and clarity, purity and punch. A complete testament to their work opened last fall— a building they Vignellis designed at the Rochester Institute of Technology, which contains their archives. Appropriately, it is called the Vignelli Center for Design Studies. From this body of work future generations of designers can learn the Vignelli principles of consistency, order, rationality and harmony, all done with panache. We at the Architectural League salute Massimo and Lella Vignelli.