Architect James McCullar was recently announced as the 2019 recipient of the AIA's Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture, which is bestowed to architects, public officials, or other individuals who design distinguished public facilities and are dedicated advocates for design excellence.
McCullar has dedicated his career to advancing housing and community design. Through his own practice and with the AIA, he provided innovative affordable housing and social interventions for significantly underserved communities.
“Looking at Jim’s portfolio of accomplishment, it is clear that his work is almost unparalleled in combining social and environmental concerns,” wrote Feniosky A. Peña-Mora, the Edwin Howard Armstrong Professor of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at Columbia University, in support of McCullar’s nomination for the award. “His rehab, adaptive reuse, and infill housing, often on abandoned sites, have for more than 30 years contributed to neighborhood revitalization.”
After working at I.M. Pei & Partners and receiving a Fulbright Fellowship for urban design, he established James McCullar Architecture in 1979. His firm's first project was a renovation of two walkup tenement buildings in the South Bronx. Designed during a time when New York City was experiencing rising abandonment rates following the 1975 financial crisis, the project received an AIA New York housing award and praised as “a new kind of public housing” by The New York Times.
His other notable projects include the Jamaica Market, which became an unofficial town center for Jamaica, Queens as well as his modular supportive housing in the Bronx. Dubbed by local residents as the “LEGO Building”, it provides 63 studios, resident services, and a vegetable garden for formerly homeless people and returning veterans.
During his tenure as the AIA New York president, McCullar bolstered the chapter's support for former mayor Michael Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 initiative. He also co-founded the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization (CSU), which promotes the need for sustainable and resilient design in U.S. cities.
“Thomas Jefferson encouraged his colleagues to take action on their ideas, saying, ‘Action will delineate and define you,’” wrote CSU President Aliye Pekin Celik on McCullar. “Jim takes this motto to heart, listening to learned discourse and animated debate, but, at the end of the day, in his quiet but forceful way bringing consensus to the room on what needs to be done. Like Jefferson, Jim makes clear how architecture is an essential element in defining our cultural identity and sustainable future.”
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