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. Named in honor of the AIA’s first executive director, the award recognizes individuals who contribute significantly to the profession of architecture through service to the Institute.
Vargas, whose efforts to instill the value of diversity and inclusiveness into the AIA at a national, Institute-wide level, will be presented with the award at the 2010 AIA national convention in Miami.
The award honors civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr., proponent of social change and head of the Urban League from 1961 until his death in 1971. At the 1968 AIA Annual Convention, Young challenged architects to more actively increase participation in the profession by minorities and women.
A native of Puerto Rico, Vargas established a presence within the AIA as a tireless advocate for institutional change to survey and remedy the lack of minority participation in the Institute and architecture at large. He was elected as the Florida/Caribbean regional director on the AIA’s Board in 2002, and has been on numerous committees and groups tasked with addressing this issue.
“Ben was the dependable and thoughtful originator of concepts and working papers designed to develop and bring into architecture the talents of aspiring Latino and Hispanic architects, and to recognize the practitioners who too often had been unrecognized even within their own firms,” wrote Boston Architectural College president Theodore Landsmark, Assoc. AIA, in a recommendation letter.
Vargas has been at the helm of a great many of the diversity initiatives the AIA has undertaken, beginning with a resolution to track demographic data to better understand the challenges to diversity the profession faces. In 2005, he helped craft the AIA’s position statement on diversity, and in 2007 he participated in the planning committee for the AIA’s Diversity Plenary.
The Tempe, Ariz.-based Abell has spent the last 35 years offering the public a myriad of community design solutions the AIA has to offer through its Regional and Urban Design Assistance Teams (R/UDAT). He has been the public face of what architects and the AIA can do to help people in need of better cities, town, neighborhoods, streets, homes, and businesses. Abell has worked with numerous R/UDAT programs across the nation, assembling diverse groups of design professionals to lead community forums in developing design solutions for changing communities, including affordable housing.
In 1974, Abell won a fellowship for work and travel in Northampton, England while finishing his architectural degree at Arizona State University (ASU). A Mark III British New Town, the Northampton Development Corporation sparked his early interst in sustainable urbanism and afforded new experiences in urban design and master planning. Abell further developed this expertise as a 10-year member of the City of Tempe’s Planning and Zoning Commission. In 1979 he founded Abell and Associates Architects in Tempe. The firm offers a diverse array of design services: architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning.
Abell first became involved with the AIA’s R/UDATs in 1974 in Phoenix, and he led his first national R/UDAT in 1994. He’s been a consistent presence in the AIA’s regional and urban design committee since the mid-80s, and helped craft an AIA design assistance team handbook. Abell has participated in 16 major community design charrettes, including AIA R/UDATs and AIA Vision 20/20 events in Vermont, Utah, California, Ohio, Texas, and Arizona. In each of these places, he has expertly assembled groups of elected officials, designers, local residents, preservationists, and activists, and helped them to find their own unique design interventions that can secure the future of their communities.
“As the most public face for these initiatives, James used his passion for sustainable urbanism and his unique humor and compassion to communicate complex ideas in an accessible and compelling way, touching the minds and hearts of hundreds of participating citizens,” wrote Robert Herman, AIA, of Edwards and Daniels Architects in Salt Lake City, in a letter of recommendation.