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Sharon Egretta Sutton, FAIA, Selected as 2011 Recipient of the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award

WASHINGTON, D.C..- The American Institute of Architects (AIA) have selected Sharon Egretta Sutton, FAIA, as the 2011 recipient of the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, given to an architect or architecturally oriented organization exemplifying the profession’s responsibility toward current social issues. As one of very few African-American women architects, Sutton has spent her career advocating inclusion in the planning and design profession. She will be presented with the award at the 2011 AIA National Convention in New Orleans.

The award honors civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr., proponent of social change and head of the Urban League from 1961 until his death in 1971. At the 1968 AIA Annual Convention, Young challenged architects to more actively increase participation in the profession by minorities and women.

Originally from Cincinnati, Sutton began her professional life as a classical musician. The idea of preserving old buildings and affordable neighborhoods began to compete with her musical career after she experienced the loss of all three of her childhood homes to urban renewal. While still working as a musician, she purchased a turn-of-the-century brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and redeveloped it as rent-controlled housing. This was just the beginning of her second career.

She enrolled at the Parsons School of Design to study interior design, and following the infamous 1968 student-led uprising at Columbia University, she was recruited by its School of Architecture. Stanford Britt, FAIA, the 2005 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award recipient, was Sutton’s classmate at Columbia.

“Even back then, 1968-1972, we all knew Sharon was destined for greatness in our profession,” Britt wrote in his letter supporting Sutton’s nomination for the award. “She questioned the kind of projects we were assigned to design. She ruffled feathers insisting we have the option to choose assignments relevant to the communities in which we would be working.”

Later she apprenticed with Bond Ryder, Mitchell Giurgola, and Alex Kouzmanoff, and eventually opened her own office in New York City, focusing on renovation and adaptive reuse. Simultaneously foraying into a third career, Sutton earned advanced degrees in philosophy and psychology and held adjunct teaching appointments at the Pratt Institute and Columbia University.

With five advanced degrees, Sutton embarked on her third career as an architectural educator. After a brief stint as assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, Sutton became associate professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1984. Since 1998 she has been a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

She is active as a public speaker, writer and editor, and is equally deft at addressing scholarly peers and mainstream audiences in outlets ranging from architecture magazines to academic presses.

Sutton’s interest in inclusion extends beyond the design professions and into the built environment, where her work focuses on engaging citizens, especially minority teenagers, in community-based planning and design.

Concerned that low-income, minority teenagers were not participating in community service, the Ford Foundation provided funding for Sutton to recommend ways to get them involved. As principal investigator in a two-and-a-half-year study, Sutton turned the assignment on its head. Her research looked at after school programs, documented the ways in which minority teenagers do contribute to their communities, and identified reasons why they don’t do it more. The study was conducted under Sutton’s leadership by the Center for Environment Education and Design Studies (CEEDS), where she serves as director.

James M. Suehiro, FAIA, met Sutton at the AIA Grassroots conference in 1997 and later spent time working with her at the AIA Diversity Conference in Seattle. In his recommendation letter, he praises Sutton’s work at CEEDS: “This research center matches graduate level students in collaboration with youth of low-income communities to evolve collective ideas into actions that physically improve their environment. Whether or not the young or mature student becomes a design professional, each has been inspired to challenge poor conditions.”

The American Institute of Architects | Sharon Egretta Sutton | Whitney M. Young Jr. Award | FAIA |

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