Recognizing her extraordinary accomplishments as an architect and educator – including designs of innovative public spaces and memorials committed to community and social justice – the World Cultural Council (WCC) on Sept. 20 named J. Meejin Yoon, B.Arch. ’95, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP), the winner of its 2022 Leonardo da Vinci World Award of Arts.
The award honors performing, creative or visionary artists “who lift our existence to a higher level by the beauty or inspiration of their creative talent,” and whose work has contributed significantly to the world’s artistic legacy, according to the WCC. The council further seeks to recognize artists who have worked to promote tolerance, peace and understanding for the well-being of humanity and the environment.
A jury of artists, experts and council members acknowledged Yoon’s leadership roles in higher education and unique contributions to the discipline rooted in a commitment to social justice and equity, environmental sustainability and technological innovation deployed for the betterment of society.
“In particular, the jury recognizes Yoon’s innovative and thoughtful design of public memorials, installations and structures, which are informed by a profound sense of historical and cultural context, as well as the need to inspire and bring communities together by providing places of remembrance and reflection that inspire hope,” the WCC said.
Those places include the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia, unveiled in 2020, and the Collier Memorial honoring a fallen campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, dedicated in 2015. Both were praised for their creative use of materials and technology for design and construction, as well as for collaborative, community-engaged approaches that informed the designs.
Other public projects include Moongate Bridge (2022), a public space and pedestrian bridge in Shanghai; Shadow Play (2015), a public shade structure in Phoenix; and White Noise White Light (2004), a temporary, interactive public installation for the Athens Olympics sited below the Acropolis. Current architecture projects include the MIT Museum, the Institute of Democracy at the University of Virginia and the Living Village at the Yale Divinity School.
Yoon, a co-founding partner of the architecture and design studio Höweler + Yoon, says her design work and research investigate the intersections between architecture, technology and public space.
“It is a true honor,” she said, “to join a long line of artists, architects, writers, musicians and others who share a belief in the power of creativity and imagination, and the potential for art in all its forms to inspire and build a better world now and well into the future.”
In nominating Yoon for the award, Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff praised her commitment to community-oriented, culturally resonant art and design, and transformational achievements as an educator at Cornell since 2019 and for 17 years previously at MIT, where she chaired the architecture department.
“Dean Yoon is deeply committed to the relationship between design education, design research and design practice and is an innovator in cross-disciplinary design education,” Kotlikoff said. “She has dedicated herself to improving education in architecture and design, inspiring rising generations to greater achievement and setting an example of highly successful programs.”
Yoon’s nomination included letters of support from peers at MIT and Columbia University.
Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Art Center in Tokyo, among other venues, and featured in publications including the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.
Additional recent honors include her 2021 election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honor reserved for the nation’s leading architects, artists, composers and writers.
A ceremony honoring Yoon along with Victoria M. Kaspi and Claudia Mitchell of McGill University – winners, respectively, of the WCC’s Albert Einstein World Award of Science and José Vasconcelos World Award of Education – will be held Nov. 30 at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.