Steven Ehrlich Receives Maybeck Prize

Dubai Federal National Council building. Courtesy Ehrlich Architects

Steven Ehrlich was recently named this year’s recipient of the Maybeck Award for achievement in architecture. The award is given by the American Institute of Architects California Council for an outstanding body of work spanning ten years or more. It is sometimes mistakenly called a lifetime achievement award, but at 65, Ehrich is still a ways off from this—still a burgeoning youth in architectural years.

Refining the refined. 1939 Schindler house, updated 2011. Photo, Grant Mudford

When I think of his body of work what comes to mind are the different moves—the small moves and the big moves. Two projects that exemplify these are the renovation of a house designed by modernist icon, Rudolf M. Schindler in 1939 and the winning proposal for the Abu Dhabi Federal National Council building. Both exemplify a sensitivity to place, culture, and environment that Ehrlich has been refining throughout his career. Thus, while they might be in different dialects they are still of the same language.

Cultural sustainability expressed through vernacular motifs and strategies that have worked for thousands of years. Dubai Federal National Council building. Courtesy Ehrlich Architects

It is obvious that Ehrlich designs buildings to be in harmony with their surroundings on multiple levels. While they could be called “green” they are also about not appearing “green” in a clichéd sense. They are also not “modernist” in any simplistic, parodying sort of way. They are more the deep embodiments of ideas—ideas about people, dwellings, neighborhoods, and cities.

Thus, the renovated house and the flower-like FNC headquarters highlight his values as an architect. After all, when you come right down to it, this is really what an architecture award is all about. How does the architect propel his values into the world and how does that in turn influence people and culture? They show an agility with materials and the fundamentals of the environment, a fluid crafting of spaces that are grounded and inspiring.

Schindler’s house is still Schindler’s house. Ehrich’s light touch with California’s inside-outside modernism. Photo, Grant Mudford

There is plenty of time to talk about lifetime achievement. But what will the next ten years bring? With Steven Ehrlich designing one can imagine many more beautiful and compelling buildings that defy easy categorization or cliché.

Guy Horton writes on architecture for The Huffington Post. He is a frequent contributor to Architectural Record, The Architect’s Newspaper, and author of The Indicator, a weekly column on the culture, business and economics of architecture, featured on ArchDaily. He is based in Los Angeles. Follow Guy on Twitter.

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