WASHINGTON – The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is recognizing the Global Design Initiative for Refugee Children and Robert Silman Structural Engineers with its 2020 Collaborative Achievement Award.

The Collaborative Achievement Award recognizes and encourages distinguished achievements of design professionals, clients, organizations, architect teams, knowledge communities and others who have had a beneficial influence on or advanced the architectural profession.

Global Design Initiative for Refugee Children (GDI)

Developed and managed by the Boston Society of Architects (BSA), GDI comprises leadership from Boston’s design community and a number of nonprofit aid and development organizations. The organizations aligned in an effort to mend the divisions and social rifts that follow conflicts around the world. The exodus spurred by civil war in Syria revealed the urgent need for the profession to develop new tools and methods to assist the humanitarian response through design. Begun in 2016, GDI is an effort to support safe play among displaced children. The initiative selected Lebanon as the site of its first project because the country hosts the highest number of Syrian refugees per capita and lacks formal camps, leaving refugees scattered across more than 2,000 urban and rural communities. The selection was further supported by the number of professional contacts many members of Boston’s design community have there and by the fundraising efforts that delivered more than $50,000 from academic institutions and private foundations. Centered on the idea of “permanent impermanence,” the project, completed in 2018, features modular wood frames constructed by a Syrian millworker that are easily assembled and disassembled should relocation be required. Since then, GDI has tackled additional projects in Lebanon and Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Beyond improving the daily lives of children, GDI has created a road map for design professionals seeking to use their skills to serve the greater good and solve issues of global importance. The initiative has also published a graphic how-to pamphlet that provides insight on the key considerations for developing a transnational, cross-disciplinary collaborative process.

Robert Silman Structural Engineers

Since its founding in New York in 1966, Robert Silman Structural Engineers has distinguished itself as a leading structural engineer in New York and the nation, playing a significant role in more than 23,000 projects.

In Silman’s early days, it would accept nearly any project that presented itself, many focused on residential rehabilitation of New York’s tenement buildings often passed over by larger, more established firms. This extensive work eventually gave way to significant structures, including Carnegie Hall in the early 1970s and a number of other New York landmarks. Because of founder Robert Silman’s love of collaboration and his passion for solving challenging structural questions, the firm’s reputation for creative thinking and its ability to breathe new life into existing structures swelled. Through the 1970s and 1980s, Silman’s willingness to listen broadened its collaborations with many of New York’s most respected architects. As it continues to mature, the firm has been tapped by international architects, such as BIG, SANAA, and Renzo Piano Building Workshop, to serve as the primary structural engineering consultant on projects beyond New York.  

While the firm now works on more new building projects than existing buildings, it continues to honor its legacy of preservation and the optimism of its founder. Steered by a new generation of leaders and now boasting more than 170 employees, the firm continues to approach all of its work with compassion and thoughtfulness. Its commitment to nonprofit organizations and pro bono work has ensured the benefits of architecture and engineering are delivered to underserved communities across the nation.

Complete Collaborative Achievement award information is available on AIA’s website.