Celebrating David Lewis' Lifetime of Urbanism

Pioneer educator and practitioner receives Athena Medal for emphasizing architecture's role in "perpetual rebirth of cities".

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The Congress for the New Urbanism is pleased to announce David Lewis as the latest recipient of the Athena medal for lifetime achievement in urbanism. The medal, whose recipients are chosen by CNU’s board of directors, was presented to Lewis by CNU President and CEO John Norquist in a ceremony in Pittsburgh this evening.

David Lewis, the pioneering educator and founder of the firm Urban Design Associates, came to Pittsburgh from England in 1963 to establish one of the first urban design graduate programs in the country at Carnegie Mellon University, where he is now emeritus distinguished professor. At a time when it was fashionable to focus on the iconic value of individual buildings, Lewis saw a larger purpose for architecture in creating “components in the perpetual rebirth of cities.” Lewis founded Urban Design Associates in Pittsburgh 1964 in order to develop these ideas in practice and to seek out and refine ways of engaging citizens in the design process.

In receiving the award, Lewis – an innovator in the development of charrettes and other methods of public participation -- stressed that he’d achieved nothing in his career alone. “The essence of urban design is teamwork. And by teamwork, I don’t mean only the professionals. I mean the citizens, to whom all cities rightfully belong.”

The Athena Medal is named for the goddess, defender of the city, weaver of fabric. It recognizes the legacy of pioneers who laid the groundwork for the New Urbanism movement and its efforts to reestablish traditions of valuable and enduring urban design and development from the scale of the building and block to the region. Lewis joins past winners Leon Krier, Christopher Alexander, Denise Scott Brown, Robert A.M. Stern, and Jonathan Barnett. While other medals have been presented at CNU’s annual Congress, the award for Lewis was presented in Pittsburgh, in conjunction with a speech by Prince’s Foundation Chief Executive Hank Dittmar, in part because of physical limitations on Lewis’ ability to travel.

In his remarks, Lewis emphasized the importance of distinguishing between history and tradition in the practice of urbanism. “History is the study of the past. Tradition is the bridge between the past and the future. Unlike history, tradition is open-ended, forward-looking, and perpetually unfinished. It is the vital language that citizens use when they relate local heritage to what they want their community to become in facing the challenges of change.

“All of us learned to talk as children. Spoken language comes automatically to us. We seldom give a thought to the fact that most of the words we use are centuries old. Yet, in spite of the age of the words we use, we have little difficulty in expressing new thoughts every day of our lives. The same is true of urban language.”

Read the full text of Lewis' acceptance remarks.