The Board of Directors and the Strategic Council of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) along with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) has announced Dr. Sharon Egretta Sutton, FAIA, as the 2023 recipient of the AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education. The AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion honors an individual who has been intensely involved in architecture education for more than a decade and whose teaching has influenced a broad range of students.
An educator, author, and citizen architect with worldwide reach, Sutton, has shifted the profession of architecture toward a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive future. Fueled by a passion for representing the unrepresented, she has shaped a career informed by the obstacles constructed by the country’s political landscape. Throughout, Sutton has developed research and tools that encourage the next generation of design professionals to heed the call of activism.
Sutton’s list of achievements is lengthy, and she is no stranger to breaking new ground. She was just the 12th African American woman to become a licensed architect in the United States, the first to be promoted to full professor of architecture, and the second to be elevated to AIA fellowship. Currently, she is a distinguished professor of architecture at Parsons School of Design, and she previously served on the faculties of the University of Washington, the University of Cincinnati, Columbia University, and Pratt Institute. Under her tutelage, a roster of transformative leaders has risen to pivotal positions in architectural education and practice.
Sutton’s research, shared across six books she has either authored or co-authored, encapsulates hidden histories, broken pipelines, and other factors that hamper the potential of architecture education today. In 2017’s When Ivory Towers Were Black, Sutton lays the foundation for attracting and bolstering a diverse student body with a vision for a curriculum that opens doors of opportunity for the underrepresented in professions such as architecture and planning. In her most recent work, Pedagogy for a Beloved Commons: Pursuing Democracy’s Promise Through Place-Based Activism, which will be published in the spring, Sutton offers a game plan for students and other hopeful citizen architects to learn and use practical skills to continue her vital work.
In all that she has done and endeavors to do, Sutton has created the framework and vision for a more just and robust profession. By probing the complicated relationship between architects and the communities they are entrusted to protect, she dares architects to strive for a more equitable built environment with her trademark style, generosity, and good humor.