by Center for Architecture
On October 26, 2023, over 800 professionals from the architecture, engineering, construction, and real-estate industries gathered at Chelsea Piers’ Pier 60 for the Center for Architecture’s annual Common Bond Gala, a celebration of the leaders who embody our community’s most cherished values: collaboration, sustainability, inclusion, civic engagement, and design excellence. The 2023 honorees were Rohit T. ‘Rit’ Aggarwala, New York City Chief Climate Officer and Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Jolie Andler Milstein, President and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), Jeanne Gang, FAIA, Founding Principal and Partner at Studio Gang, and the Legacy of Joan Davidson and the J.M. Kaplan Fund. Common Bond also serves as the single largest funding source for the AIA New York and Center for Architecture—this year’s gala raised an impressive $1,180,000 in support of the exhibitions, programs, scholarships, and activities of the Center for Architecture, including our education programs.
Dinner began with opening remarks from Jesse Lazar, Executive Director of AIA New York and the Center for Architecture. “What has always made me feel connected to this community is its incredible sense of civic responsibility, and the way you connect the work you do with the greater good,” Lazar said. “These honorees embody the future we are striving for in New York City—resilient, equitable, and vibrant—and have championed the kind of transformations we want to see in our city, our profession, and our society. ”
The evening’s first honoree, Jolie Andler Milstein, was introduced by 2023 AIANY President Matthew Bremer, AIA. “Jolie has made her name known as a trailblazer in affordable housing initiatives and public policy advocacy in both New York City and State,” Bremer said. “A licensed architect, commercial investment banker, and experienced economic developer, Jolie has a thorough understanding of policy goals which address the housing crisis in the context of our complex metropolis.” As President of NYSAFAH, Milstein is a strong proponent of supply-side solutions, heading efforts to shine a light on housing issues through partnerships and policies.
Milstein emphasized to the design community that housing “is a foundation for stability, opportunity, and dignity. It’s a human right that should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their income, race, or background. It’s also a key driver of economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability.”
Center for Architecture Board Chair Jennifer Sage, FAIA, LEED AP, introduced the next honoree, Rohit T. “Rit” Aggarwala. As New York City Chief Climate Officer and Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Aggarwala has played a pivotal role in shaping New York’s approach to sustainability and infrastructure. Under his leadership, DEP has tended to both stormwater and coastal resilience, infrastructure, and improving water revenues.
“The housing and climate crisis are inextricably linked,” Aggarwala said in his acceptance speech. “If we could solve those two things, we’re good. And if we can’t solve those two things, we really are in trouble.”
The Legacy of Joan K. Davidson and the J.M. Kaplan Fund was the next honoree of the evening. As President Emeritus of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, Davidson supported countless nonprofit organizations, large and small, to defend the urban and cultural environment in our city. “Joan worked tirelessly to improve our urban environment–she was Commissioner of New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, head of the New York State Council on the Arts, and founded Furthermore Grants which supported design publishing,” Sage shared. “Joan passed away this past August, and will be dearly missed by our community, but her legacy endures.”
Davidson’s granddaughter Emma Davidson received the award on her behalf. “My grandmother Joan was a tireless advocate and champion for the city’s architecture, design, and cultural landscape,” said Davidson. “She cared deeply about New York, had expertly keen eyes for design, and understood the value of place. My grandmother loved beautiful design. She loved architecture, but more than that, she loved architects. She would have really loved to have been here tonight,” Davidson added with emotion.
The evening’s final honoree was Jeanne Gang, FAIA, of Studio Gang. “Jeanne is known for her unconventional and forward-looking approach to design, creating spaces that connect people with their communities and the environment,” Bremer said while introducing Gang. “Her diverse portfolio and commitment to actionable idealism have made her an influential figure in the world of architecture and urban design.”
“I really couldn’t think of any other place where I would be more proud to be part of the community than this city,” said Gang. “It’s really become a vital source of inspiration for all of us, and it’s really inspired the growth of our studio… New York is a brain center for us.” Gang continued: “We started the Gilder Center in 2011, and it’s been thrilling to see how people are embracing it. That’s a project that would not have been possible without AIA New York, as they really supported the project when it was going through all its trials and tribulations. It’s an honor to give something like that back to the city, and it’s also an honor to be recognized here tonight.”
Common Bond also recognized three promising students pursuing architecture at New York City-based schools, awarding each a scholarship of $3,500: Katherine Menjivar, B.Arch candidate at the CCNY’s Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, Sofia Mercado, B.Arch candidate at The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, and Olena Petsyukh, M.Arch candidate at Parsons School of Design, The New School. Read more about the scholarship honorees here.
This year’s gala was especially significant as it marks the 20th anniversary of the Center for Architecture and the introduction of the 20th Anniversary Fund. Over the past two decades, the Center for Architecture has played a pivotal role in making architecture and urbanism accessible to all in New York City, connecting with architects who have decades of experience as well as with young minds just beginning to explore design concepts. “I challenge you tonight to think of a person, an organization, a neighborhood, or a movement that needs the Center for Architecture and that we can all learn from and with,” said Lazar while introducing the fund. “And as we launch this 20th anniversary campaign, we are asking for your help to go bigger and bolder, and to reach more people about the value of architecture in their lives and in the city.”
The initiative aims to support new and ambitious programs at the Center for Architecture, further expanding our impact in NYC. We intend to engage with more communities, establish meaningful partnerships with individuals and groups who have not always had a voice in architecture and design, and bring together creators and experiencers of architecture under one roof. We look forward to bringing you along in these efforts and continuing to grow the impact of AIANY and the Center for Architecture. Until then, congratulations to our honorees and scholarship recipients, and thank you again for making Common Bond 2023 a smashing success. We are so grateful!