2003 JC Nichols Prize Winner — Vincent Scully

Vincent Scully

“Using the Power of Ideas to Influence Development”

Vincent Scully, one of the nation’s foremost architectural historians and longtime Yale University professor, was selected as the fourth annual laureate of the Urban Land Institute J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. Scully, 83, who has taught several generations of architects, planners, art historians, developers and politicians throughout his distinguished career, has been described by world-renowned architect Philip Johnson as “the most influential architecture teacher, ever.”

The Urban Land Institute J.C. Nichols Prize recognizes a person whose career demonstrates a commitment to the highest standards of responsible development. The $100,000 prize honors the legacy of legendary Kansas City, Missouri, developer J.C. Nichols, a founding Urban Land Institute (ULI) member considered as one of America’s most influential entrepreneurs in land use during the first half of the 1900s. Scully will be presented the prize during a celebratory luncheon next month in New York City.

Professor Scully has defined architecture as a “continuing dialogue between generations that creates an environment across time.” His numerous books, including Architecture: The Natural and the Manmade; American Architecture and Urbanism; The Shingle Style and the Stick Style; The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods; and Pueblo: Mountain, Village, Dance have made remarkable contributions to the history of modern architecture, featuring his studies of the American Shingle Style, Louis Sullivan’s humanism, Frank Lloyd Wright’s symbolism, and the iconographic power of the landscape, from classical Greece to the pre-Colonial American Southwest.

Over the course of his almost 60 years as an architectural historian, Scully has focused increasingly on the role architecture and design play in creating a strong sense of place, which he refers to as the “architecture of community.” He described this movement in a foreword he authored in 2000 for ULI’s publication, Density by Design. “Americans today seem to feel that a sense of community is exactly what needs to be revived in this country, and many apparently want exactly that for themselves and their families,” he wrote. “It is therefore no great wonder that they are choosing to live in the kind of integrated architectural groupings that are suggestive of the towns in which they grew up, or about which they have always dreamed.”

Scully enrolled in Yale as a 16-year-old freshman on a full scholarship, leading to an illustrious teaching career; and his legacy at the university will be ensured through two endowed professorships. A strong believer in the power of images to make a lasting impression, he became widely known for turning off the lights in the classroom and urging students to absorb his slides, rather than trying to jot down his every word. His standing-room-only lectures, among the most popular classes at Yale, were given in the law school, which had the only hall large enough to hold 500 students.

Scully was selected to receive the Nichols Prize by a jury of five distinguished urban experts: jury chairman Peter S. Rummell, chairman and chief executive officer of The St. Joe Company in Jacksonville, Fla.; Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New Yorker magazine; Adele Chatfield-Taylor, president of the American Academy in Rome, with offices in New York City and Rome; Joseph E. Brown, president and chief executive officer of EDAW, Inc., in San Francisco; and James A. Ratner, executive vice president of Forest City Enterprises in Cleveland.

As the fourth recipient of the Nichols Prize, Scully follows two public officials—Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., and the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan—and a private sector representative, Gerald D. Hines, founder and chairman of the Hines real estate organization. Riley, Moynihan and Hines were the 2000, 2001 and 2002 Nichols Prize laureates, respectively.

The selection of Scully—an academic—represents an additional aspect of the built environment that is recognized by the Nichols prize, Rummell noted. “It takes academics to create an intellectual stimulus, which is what the award was designed to celebrate,” Rummell said. “Nobody has thought about community design in a richer way than Vincent Scully. The people he has taught have had enormous influence on urban planning and design… they understand that architecture is but one piece of what you do, and that only when planning is done in the whole that a sense of place is achieved. Scully has a great ability to put things in context, to show that urban design is not just about architecture.”

Scully’s selection as the 2003 Nichols Prize laureate is a tribute to “using the power of ideas to influence development,” said Goldberger, who studied under the professor. “His thinking has always been based on the notion that architecture is not purely aesthetics, and that the real meaning (of architecture) is how it can be used to make better places. He has taught the social value of architecture not just to architects, but to lawyers, real estate developers and others who have made the world a better place.”

In 1999, the National Building Museum in Washington established the Vincent Scully Prize to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the built environment through scholarship, research, writing or professional practice; the first prize was awarded to Scully. In an interview at the time on “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” Scully discussed the return to development and design that creates a sense of community. “American architecture was always very good at putting towns together, and with the automobile, and with the modern age, we forgot a good many things. The automobile… created a landscape where it was very difficult to feel a sense of community,” he said. “You can still have that mobility (provided by autos). You just don’t have to create the environment so that the automobile is what shapes the whole environment… There are a lot of people now who are designing new towns that make sense, that discipline the automobile and give people a sense of community.”

According to Ratner, Scully’s teachings have reached far beyond his students. “As developers, we are building communities, and we know that an individual building does not make the community. Vincent Scully has emphasized this, and (as a result), he has directly influenced and touched development and architecture,” Ratner said. “He is sensitive to context, what development patterns are, and that the success of development depends on having livable communities. Without question, our communities would look differently without him, because the people he has influenced have, over time, influenced the built environment.”

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