The American Institute of Architects (AIA) gave its 2020 Collaborative Achievement Award to two winners: Boston Society of Architects’ Global Design Initiative for Refugee Children (GDI) and Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers DPC, New York City.

The Collaborative Achievement Award recognizes achievements of design professionals, clients, organizations, architect teams, knowledge communities and others who have had a beneficial influence on, or advanced, the architectural profession.

Developed and managed by the Boston Society of Architects, GDI comprises leadership from Boston’s design community and a number of nonprofit aid and development organizations. The organizations aligned in an effort to mend the divisions and social rifts that follow conflicts around the world. The exodus spurred by civil war in Syria revealed an urgent need for the profession to develop new tools and methods to assist the humanitarian response through design. Begun in 2016, GDI is an effort to support safe play among displaced children. The initiative selected Lebanon as the site of its first project because the country hosts the highest number of Syrian refugees per capita and lacks formal camps, leaving refugees scattered across more than 2,000 urban and rural communities. The selection was further supported by the number of professional contacts many members of Boston’s design community have there, and by the fundraising efforts that delivered more than $50,000 from academic institutions and private foundations. Centered on the idea of permanent impermanence, the project, completed in 2018, features modular wood frames constructed by a Syrian millworker that are easily assembled and disassembled should relocation be required. Since then, GDI has tackled additional projects in Lebanon and Dorchester, Mass.

Beyond improving the daily lives of children, GDI has created a road map for design professionals seeking to use their skills to serve the greater good and solve issues of global importance, AIA stated. The initiative has also published a how-to pamphlet that provides insight on key considerations for developing a transnational, cross-disciplinary collaborative process.

Since its founding in New York in 1966, Silman, throughout the U.S., completed more than 23,000 projects. In Silman’s early days, the company completed projects that included residential rehabilitation of New York’s tenement buildings. Silman grew and completed significant structures including Carnegie Hall in the early 1970s and a number of other landmarks. Founder Robert Silman loved collaboration and had a passion for solving challenging structural questions. The firm developed a reputation for creative thinking and an ability to breathe new life into existing structures. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Silman’s willingness to listen broadened its collaborations with many of New York’s architects. As it continues to grow, the firm has worked with international architects.
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