The American Academy of Arts and Letters has awarded three Cornell alumni with architecture, fiction and music awards for 2019. With the intention of sustaining literature, music and fine arts, the academy honors over 70 people who have dedicated their life craft to sustaining those very components.
These alumni include writer Toni Morrison M.A. ’55 and architects Eric Höweler ’93 and J. Meejin Yoon ’94. In addition to these alumni are Wynton Marsalis, an A.D. White Professor-at-large, and Anne Rielsbach ’83, program director for the Architectural League of New York.
Morrison, who was elected to the academy in 1981, received the Gold Medal for Fiction, one of the highest honors from the academy. Her hard work and talent have been captured through the 11 novels she has written in her career.
Höweler and Yoon — the current dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning — co-founded the Höweler + Yoon architecture firm. Their firm has completed a range of projects, all different from one another. “We don’t put boundaries around what defines architecture,” said Höweler.
“It was such an honor to receive the award,” Yoon said. “The recognition of our work as a unique form of creative practice from a group of distinguished architects was incredibly meaningful and encouraging.”
She said in her work as an architect, she tries to blend design, technology, cultural and social issues in a “meaningful” and “original” way. With current innovative projects such as a barge in Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, which was affected by the coal extraction industry, Höweler hopes to “bring people to the waterfront to sort of explore newly remediated urban ecology.”
Yoon said their favorite projects are the ones that are challenging, unprecedented, and where they are “even pushed in the exploratory learning, and yielded something very special.”
One of these projects includes the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia –– a project that highlights the history of not only the university, but a history of the United States. It is with these projects it is shown that architecture and design play a major role in “acknowledging history and providing platforms for open dialogue for new ideas to emerge”, Höweler said.
Rieselbach, who also received an Arts and Letters Award in Architecture, said on her website that as a student in the history of architecture and urban development, she learned how to look at architecture not only in the present but in the future. Taking her experience at Cornell and employing it into the real world, Rieselbach has brought a range of architects together and honored their work at the League.
Marsalis, a recipient of the Arts and Letter Award in Music, is a trumpeter, musician, composer and teacher — all of which have shaped the work that has been recognized by the academy.
The work of the honorees will be showcased in the 2019 Ceremonial Exhibition from May 23 to June 16 at the Academy galleries located on Audubon Terrace in Washington Heights.
Correction 8/7/19: A previous version of this article misstated Toni Morrison’s degree. She received a M.A. in American literature, not an M.F.A.