The SOM Foundation is pleased to announce that Toni L. Griffin has received the 2023 Special Recognition for Architecture, Design, and Urban Design. The award supports Griffin’s project as part of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, The Laboratory of the Future.
The Laboratory of the Future is an exhibition of six parts. It includes 89 participants, over half of whom are from Africa or the African Diaspora. The gender balance is 50/50, and the average age of all participants is 43, dropping to 37 in the Curator’s Special Projects, where the youngest is 24. 46% of participants count education as a form of practice, and, for the first time ever, nearly half of participants are from sole or individual practices of five people or less. Across all the parts of The Laboratory of the Future, over 70% of exhibits are by practices run by an individual or a very small team. These statistics reflect a seismic change in the culture of architectural production at large, and an even greater shift in participation in international exhibitions. The balance has shifted. Things fall apart. The center can no longer hold.
Central to all the projects is the primacy and potency of one tool: the imagination. It is impossible to build a better world if one cannot first imagine it.
SOM Foundation Executive Director Iker Gil commented: “The Chicago-based work that Toni L. Griffin has been doing as part of her practice, urban american city, and the long-standing research of the Just City Lab platform she leads at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design has been remarkable. Her work provides invaluable and new portrayals of Chicago’s South Side and Black life.”
Toni L. Griffin is the founder of the New York-based urbanAC LLC, a planning and design management practice that works with public, private, and nonprofit partnerships to reimagine, reshape, and rebuild just cities and communities. The practice designs and leads complex and transformative social and spatial urban revitalization projects rooted in addressing historic and current disparities involving race, class, and generation. Over the past ten years, Griffin has successfully collaborated with several major US cities on the cusp of just social and economic recovery. Recent cities include Chicago, Indianapolis, Rochester, and St, Louis. Griffin is also a Professor in Practice of Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she teaches design studios and seminars also rooted in issues of social and spatial justice. She is founder and director of the Just City Lab, an applied research platform that investigates the ways design can have a positive impact on addressing the conditions of injustice in cities. She is the author of multiple articles on design justice, and co-editor of The Just City Essays (2015) and the upcoming publication The Just City Dialogues: Disruptive Design. She has lectured extensively in the US, Netherlands, South Africa, and South America, and between 2016–2020 served as an Obama Presidential appointee to the US Commission on Fine Arts.
The award was confirmed by SOM Foundation Executive Director Iker Gil, SOM Foundation cochairs Leo Chow and Scott Duncan, and SOM Foundation directors Mark Sarkisian and Doug Voigt.
In addition to the SOM Foundation, this project is being supported by the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative.