2021 National Design Awards Winners

John Hill
1. September 2021
Ross Barney Architects, Lincoln Park Zoo Searle Visitor Center, Chicago, 2018. (Photo: Kendall McCaugherty, Hall + Merrick Photographers; all images courtesy of the Cooper Hewitt)

New York's Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced the winners of the 2021 National Design Awards, which recognizes design excellence and innovation in nine categories.

The 22nd annual awards, announced today, honor "design innovation and impact" in nine categories. These categories have changed over time since the National Design Awards were established in 2000 as a project of the White House Millennium Council, most recently with Climate Action added in 2020 to recognize a project that makes "significant contributions to addressing the global climate crisis."

Like last year, this is the second year of the National Design Awards taking place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and the second year the awards are being held sans director, following the departure of Caroline Baumann in February 2020 (Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar is serving as interim director as the Cooper Hewitt searches for a replacement). Although the Cooper Hewitt recently opened its doors to the public again, it appears that the National Design Month in October, held in conjunction with the awards, will be predominantly online, with "free, virtual programming for design enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels," per the museum.

Neuhold-Ravikumar said in a statement: "The 2021 National Design Award winners challenge the boundaries of their fields — from community and future-focused to socially responsible design, these designers fill us with an optimism for the future by demonstrating the transformative capacity of design." Honorary Patron for this year’s National Design Awards is First Lady Jill Biden.

The winners are listed below, followed by more information on the four architecture-related winners (with text from the museum's announcement), and the names of the jury at bottom. Visit the Cooper Hewitt website for more information on all the winners.

The 2021 winners:

  • Cheryl D. Miller, Design Visionary
  • InVert Self-Shading Window by Doris Sung, Climate Action
  • Colloqate Design, Emerging Designer
  • Ross Barney Architects, Architecture and Interior Design
  • Imaginary Forces, Communication Design
  • Behnaz Farahi, Digital Design
  • Becca McCharen-Tran, Fashion Design
  • Studio-MLA, Landscape Architecture
  • BioLite, Product Design

Architecture and Interior Design

Carol Ross Barney, Ross Barney Architects. (Photo: Tara White)
Ross Barney Architects

"Given to an individual or firm for the design of public, commercial and residential interior and exterior spaces, this year’s National Design Award for Architecture and Interior Design goes to Ross Barney Architects. Founded in Chicago in 1981, Ross Barney Architects’ mission is to create well-designed spaces for everyone. The studio is dedicated to the design of 'noble' projects, without the most generous budgets or the most sought-after commissions, but those that are important to daily life and require innovative interventions. Ross Barney Architects’ best work is often for unexpected, compelling projects that go beyond architecture and exist on the edges or in the margins where design thought and consideration might not conventionally come into play. Notable projects include the Chicago Riverwalk, McDonalds’ Flagship Restaurants, CTA Cermak-McCormick Place and Morgan Street Stations, and the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The studio has adopted a holistic approach, engaging the client, user and community to allow a project to grow from its place, history and function." 

Ross Barney Architects, McDonald’s Global Flagship at Walt Disney World, Orlando, 2020. (Photo: Kate Joyce Studios)

Landscape Architecture

Mia Lehrer, Studio-MLA. (Photo: Courtesy of Danny Laio)

"The Landscape Architecture award recognizes an individual or firm for the design of outdoor environments and urban planning. This year’s award is presented to Studio-MLA. Studio-MLA integrates landscape architecture, urban design and planning to create places that inspire human connection, unite communities and restore environmental balance. 'Advocacy by design' is a foundation of the practice. For more than 25 years, founder and president Mia Lehrer, FASLA, has sparked the team’s inventive thinking to address complex relationships within urban and natural environments. From the master planning of rivers to the design of intimate plazas and gardens, the studio is recognized for creativity, pragmatism and responsibility across a range of scales and geographies. With offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, its 45-person team includes landscape architects, planners, botanists and ecologists from around the world. Diversity and multiple perspectives add meaning to collaborations and value to outcomes. Together, the firm believes in the transformative power of design to recalibrate its shared surroundings for a resilient future."

Studio-MLA, SoFi Stadium and Lake Park at Hollywood Park, Inglewood, California, 2021. (Photo: Courtesy of Studio-MLA)

Climate Action

Doris Sung, DOSU Studio Architecture. (Photo: Courtesy of DOSU Studio Architecture)
InVert Self-Shading Window by Doris Sung

"The Climate Action award recognizes a design project for its significant contributions to addressing the global climate crisis. The winner of the award is the InVert Self-Shading Window. Designed by Doris Sung, the InVert Self-Shading Window uses smart thermobimetal pieces inside the cavity of a standard double-glazed window to shade a building in a magical way — with a kaleidoscope of fluttering butterfly-like pieces. By responding to the sun, it dynamically blocks solar radiation from heating the building and thereby reduces air-conditioning usage by 25%, using zero energy and no controls. Given that 40% of all energy used is in buildings, far more than transportation or other industries, and 12% of that energy is spent on cooling interiors, any amount of reduction has a tremendous impact on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Through her work, Sung seeks ways to make building skins sensitive and responsive to the changing environments. She is the founder of Los Angeles-based DOSU Studio Architecture, the director of undergraduate programs at University of Southern California, and the recipient of fellowships from Google’s R+D for the Built Environment, United States Artists and the Rockefeller Foundation at Bellagio, among others."

InVert™ Self-Shading Windows installed at Brooks + Scarpa Architects. (Photo: Courtesy of DOSU Studio Architecture)

Emerging Designer

Bryan Lee Jr., Colloqate Design. (Photo: Courtesy of Colloqate Design)
Colloqate Design

"The Emerging Designer award is given in recognition of a designer, firm or organization who has demonstrated profound talent in the early stages of their career. The 2021 Emerging Designer award is presented to Colloqate Design. Founded in 2017, Colloqate Design is a multidisciplinary nonprofit design justice practice based in New Orleans with a focus on expanding community access to, and building power through, the design of social, civic and cultural spaces. Its mission is to intentionally organize, advocate and design spaces of racial, social and cultural justice throughout the built environment. Through programming, planning and design projects, Colloqate seeks to dismantle the privilege and power structures that use the design professions to maintain systems of injustice. Colloqate organizes to build knowledge, power and access in the communities it serves through ongoing community gatherings and workshops to share and build collective knowledge around the process of city-building. Its work speaks to the potential for equitable spaces and attempts to visually and physically represent its collective aspirations for the future."

Colloqate Design, Launch Charter School, Brooklyn, NY, 2021. (Visualization: Colloqate Design)

The 2021 jury:

  • Kofi Boone, professor, North Carolina State University
  • Billy Fleming, Wilks Family Director, McHarg Center, University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design
  • Joe Gebbia, co-founder, Airbnb
  • Kristine Johnson, co-founder and chief design strategist, Cognition Studio, Inc.
  • Grace Jun, assistant professor of graphic design, University of Georgia, and CEO, Open Style Lab
  • Patricia Saldaña Natke, principal, Urban Works Ltd.

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