The Weitzman School Awards made its in-person return to New York City last Tuesday night for the first time since 2019, with a celebration of some of the school’s brightest students and honors for professional excellence in architecture and city planning.
The ceremony was hosted by Dean and Paley Professor Fritz Steiner and held at The Shed in Manhattan, a flexible, customizable space for cultural programming that was designed by the firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, one of the night’s two professional honorees and the 2022 Kanter Tritsch Medalist in Architecture. The Shed sits at Hudson Yards at the northern end of the High Line, the 1.5-mile elevated park that Diller Scofidio + Renfro also designed in collaboration with James Corner Field Operations and Piet Oudolf. At the intersection of some of the most consequential design interventions in Manhattan’s recent past, it was a fitting place to celebrate the creativity of architects and planners, said Penn President Liz Magill in opening remarks.
“I don’t know about you, but I have found that returning to public life renews our appreciation of great design in the places where we live and where we gather,” President Magill said.
The Weitzman School Awards began in 2018 with the Kanter Tritsch Prize in Energy and Architectural Innovation, established by a $1.25 million gift from current Weitzman Advisor Lori Kanter Tritsch (MArch’85) and her partner, Penn Trustee William P. Lauder (W’83). The award provides a $50,000 fellowship prize for a promising graduate architecture student and a medal of excellence for a practicing architect. The following year, the School also awarded the first Witte-Sakamoto Family Prize in City & Regional Planning, established with a $1.25 million gift from former Weitzman Advisor William Witte (C’73, MCP’75) and his wife, Keiko Sakamoto. The award provides a $50,000 fellowship prize to an outstanding planning student entering their final year of studies at the Weitzman School, and a medal to a city or firm for an innovative plan.
The Awards celebration raises funds for student scholarships in architecture and planning.
The 2022 Kanter Tritsch Prize was awarded to Kyle Troyer (MArch’23), an architecture student from Berlin, Ohio, whose work at Penn has explored new ways of thinking about materiality and form in architecture, said Miller Professor and Chair of Architecture Winka Dubbeldam. In a video, Troyer said his work has been driven by questions about how design decisions can reverberate through architecture and society more broadly.
“We have the ability to challenge the canon. We have the ability to challenge known forms and typologies—things that have become a sort of backbone to the architectural discipline,” he said. “I think you start to challenge that when you start asking why you’re doing the thing that you’re doing: Why are we here in this moment?”
Accepting the Kanter Tritsch Medal, Elizabeth Diller, a co-founder of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, said the recognition gave her an occasion to reflect on the trajectory of the firm. When it was founded in 1981, its principals were focused on “railing against the architectural profession and choosing instead to take on an independent path” with projects that were often as close to art and performance as they were to architecture, she said. Over time, the firm found ways to “convert some of our provocations into meaningful action.” Today the firm takes on large civic commissions around the world. The Shed was a unique challenge—a permanent structure that can keep up with the moving target of contemporary art—and one that reflects the firm’s commitment to agility in design, Diller said.
“Climate change, the health crises, economic and political instability—all of these changes are quickly outpacing architecture’s ability to respond with agility. And that is something that, as architects, we really need to devote our most creative thinking to,” she said.
The winner of the Witte-Sakamoto Family Prize was Jasmine Siyu Wu (MCP’23), a city planning student whose research focuses on equity in access to drivers’ education for teens. Wu is a student who has taken on the most rigorous courses at Weitzman, said Lisa Servon, the Kevin and Erica Penn Presidential Professor and chair of city and regional planning, and someone who “thinks about the problems that people are experiencing on the ground, and then uses these incredible technical skills to think about how to solve them.”
In her acceptance video, Wu said that building cities and transportation systems for everyone should be the focus of planners.
“Many people don’t think about equity: Who can use the system? Who benefits more than others? Who benefits less than others?” she said. “I care more about who uses the transportation system than about how the transportation system functions itself.”
The Witte-Sakamoto Family Medal was given in recognition of Hartford400, a comprehensive plan for the city of Hartford, Connecticut, on the 400th anniversary of its urban settlement. The plan is built around a series of efforts to reconnect the city across highways that cut apart its neighborhoods in the 20th century, and to restore the centrality of the Connecticut River. Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said that receiving the award for the plan gave the city “firepower” to lobby Congress and other officials to fund its key components.
The plan’s design was led by Suisman Urban Design under the auspices of the iQuilt Partnership, which is led by Executive Director Jackie Mandyck. In an acceptance presentation, Suisman Urban Design Founder Doug Suisman gave a sweeping history of Hartford, from its glacial formation to its settlement by Indigenous people, its development as an industrial city and insurance-industry hub, and the long-lasting infrastructure projects that shaped the city today. The plan envisions the removal of knotty highway interchanges and the development of new waterfront public space, opening up new land for development, and reconnecting the street grid to the river.
“I believe that Hartford—and I say this as a proud native son—is capable once again of reshaping its own destiny,” Suisman said. “The Witte-Sakamoto Family Medal is a wonderful vote of confidence and a source of encouragement for all the people in the Connecticut Valley as they advance the Hartford400 vision.”