What could be bigger than an Oscar?
Why do you ask? Because of an honor recently awarded to Corpus Christi architect Elizabeth Chu Richter. She was made a scholarship holder of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, which has existed since 1908 and has had the privilege of calling herself “royal” since 1909, the year William Howard Taft became president of the country in the south. This institute is 19 years older than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences if you count.
Look at the company that runs them
The other four architects named by the institute along with Richter are an indication of how big the business is. Their names – Renzo Piano, Denise Scott Brown, Ivenue Love-Stanley, and Vishaan Chakrabarti – won’t mean much to the architecturally uninformed, that is, to most of us. But they are a who’s who of what is what in the architecture of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Piano and Scott Brown are among the most influential architects of the 20th century. Love-Stanley is the first African American woman to be registered as an architect in the southeastern United States. Chakrabarti is an influential architecture professor at Columbia University /
Where does Chu Richter fit in?
It is easy. In addition to her award-winning design work, she is an influential voice when it comes to explaining the value of architecture to non-architects. For 11 years she made two minute radio segments for NPR stations entitled “The Shape of Texas”. In 2015 she was President of the American Institute of Architects. Not the Corpus Christi chapter. The whole organization.
Chu Richter received the AIA’s Young Architects Award at the age of 51, which made perfect sense for architects but took some explanation for a general audience to understand. Here’s: She met her husband David in architecture school but postponed her career to age 40 in order to stay home with her children until her youngest turned 6. So she was professionally young at the age of 51. Also, famous architects are known for doing much of their best work long after they are eligible for full social security benefits. The Richters are no exception in this regard.
The list of notable projects by Chu Richter, her husband and her company is long, even if you can’t get out of Corpus Christi. She built one of the first buildings in Corpus Christi port, a cotton warehouse that was there on the opening day in 1926 and that the port had not demolished, into what is now the thoroughly modern Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz International Center. It is a popular venue for those who attend many high falutinian banquets and the like.
And it barely scratches the surface of what Chu Richter and her husband did. Her work is a feature of the Del Mar College (east and west) and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi campuses, including the impressive Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies. They designed ports of entry along the border, bus stops, rest stops, and an eye-catching visitor center outside of Amarillo that looks like a shape of the Palo Duro Canyon, vice versa.
Stopping the list here leaves a lot unmentioned. However, it should be noted that Chu Richter deserves this honor for both architecture and speaking.
Why should one care about Canadians’ views on architecture? First, consider Canada’s climate and terrain. Now consider that his architects have fitted a so-called built environment into the overwhelmingly beautiful but challenging natural environment of this country. Your opinions on architecture should count for something.
What makes your award better than an Oscar? It recognizes work that takes like reinforced concrete.