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The 2011 AIA Thomas Jefferson Award for Public-sector architects: James Binkley, FAIA
WASHINGTON, D.C.- The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has selected, James Binkley, FAIA, a federal agency leader and David Burney, FAIA, a New York City municipal department commissioner to receive the 2010 Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture. This year’s award recipients will be honored and receive their awards at the 2011 AIA National Convention and Design Exposition in New Orleans.

Burney began his career in private architectural practice, but in 1990 he became the director of design and capital improvement at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the nation’s largest public housing agency. While there, Burney re-oriented the agency’s design process away from the lowest-bidder budget constraints that had produced decades of unsightly and poorly functioning affordable housing. With Burney’s leadership, NYCHA focused on producing quality architecture.

In 2004 Burney moved over to head New York City’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC), with a staff of 1,200 and an ongoing $5.7 billion capital investment program. Burney raised the standards of what people expected from public architecture, focusing on quality, not simply economical fees and low budgets. The quality of the work both his agencies produced is evidenced by the many design awards their buildings have earned.

Burney has helped publish several sets of influential design guideline reports. The Active Design Guidelines report (completed with the help of AIA New York), for example, advises architects on how to create spaces that encourage physical fitness.

A recommendation letter by AIA New York Executive Director Frederic Bell, FAIA, tells of the DDC before Burney. “The agency was focused on issues such as speed of construction, reacting to political pressures driven by city council term limits, and short funding cycles,” he wrote. “There was not much attention given to the quality of what was being built. Architects were treated as contractors, not fully integrated into the culture of public works. David changed all that virtually overnight.”

The Thomas Jefferson Award recognizes excellence in architectural advocacy and achievement in three categories: Private-sector architects who have established a portfolio of accomplishment in the design of architecturally distinguished public facilities; public-sector architects who manage or produce quality design within their agencies; and public officials or other individuals who by their role of advocacy have furthered the public's awareness and/or appreciation of design excellence.

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