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The Williams Visual Arts Building has been recognized for excellence in design quality with the Silver Medal from the Pennsylvania chapter of The American Institute of Architects, the highest award given by the organization.

The Visual Arts Building was chosen from a pool of applications by 100 practicing architects in Pennsylvania, who submitted buildings from around the country. No more than one silver medal is awarded annually, although in many years, such as in 2001, no facilities are deemed deserving of the honor, according to Caroline E. Boyce, executive director of AIA Pennsylvania.

The building’s innovative design was a joint venture of Joseph N. Biondo Architects of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Werner A. Buckl Associates of Easton. Receiving the award Nov. 22 were Biondo and Larry Rosensweet and Eric Davis of Buckl Associates. It was presented at the State Museum in Harrisburg by Jerry K. Roller, president of the Board of AIA Pennsylvania; Elmer Burger II, chairman of the 2002 Design Awards; and Friedrich St. Florian, jury chairman.

The director of the Williams Visual Arts Building is Edward J. Kerns, Eugene H. Clapp II Professor of Art, an internationally known abstract painter who spearheaded its development. The building is the realization of Kerns’ vision.

“I’m very happy for the college and very proud of being part of the team that brought this about,” he says. “The building is really serving the community and students at a high level and will continue to do so for many years to come.”

“The jury was very moved by this building — moved because the architects took a very ordinary, uninspiring building and made it into something extraordinary,” says St. Florian, designer of the National World War II Memorial under construction in Washington, D.C. “The architect Frederick Kiesler once said, ‘Architecture is the art of making the unnecessary necessary.’ This project reaches beyond renovation into the realm of invention. It is such a pleasure to see invention where we don’t expect to find it. The architects respected the previous structure but without following the conventional and expected course of action. The project is built from small discoveries and developed through to the smallest detail.”

The jury was comprised of three Rhode Island School of Design faculty members, including St. Florian, as well as a principal owner of a Providence, R.I., architectural firm.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to work with a passionate client with similar sensibilities in the art department,” says Biondo, who also received one of two Honor Awards, the second highest citation by AIA, for another project. “You don’t always get to do that as an architect.”

Biondo’s work is the subject of an exhibition in the Visual Arts Building’s Richard A. and Rissa W. Grossman Gallery that concluded Saturday. His firm received a Progressive Architecture Award in 1996. A native of Bethlehem, Pa., Biondo was cited as one of 10 outstanding emerging architects in the United States by Architecture magazine.

The Visual Arts Building also received the Adaptive Reuse Award from the Easton Heritage Alliance last month. The award recognizes excellence in buildings that have undergone major restorations/renovations to serve a purpose that differs from the facility’s original function.

The 23,500-square-foot Williams Visual Arts Building is one of the leading high-tech facilities for art education and exhibitions in the nation. It includes sculpture and painting studios, a community-based teaching studio, Grossman Gallery, a flexible studio area with movable walls for honors and independent study students, seminar room, conference room, five faculty studios and offices, and a spacious lobby.

The building, which was dedicated in April 2001 in a day-long community celebration of the arts, is home to Lafayette’s studio art program. Located on North Third Street, at the main gateway to the campus, the building underscores Lafayette’s commitment to play a prominent role in the revitalization of downtown Easton. The facility offers local and regional artists and area school students more direct access to one of the College’s premier educational strengths.

Classes, workshops led by renowned artists, and open studio sessions are offered to local high school students and the public. For example, nine Phillipsburg High School students are interacting with professional artists, photographers, and an architect this semester to expand their knowledge of contemporary art in a class instructed by PHS teacher Bob Jiorle and Jim Toia, director of the Williams Visual Arts Building’s community based teaching program. The class is held from 2-3 p.m. each Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

“You can’t imagine what this program does for our kids,” says Jiorle. “Students have the opportunity to work in a state-of-the-art building and are certainly enriched by the teaching. They are learning what it is like to carry out a project from beginning to end. It has been of tremendous value. The students love the program, and I just can’t say enough about it.”

“Once in a while we all get lucky and catch a cultural institution taking an enormous leap forward and landing right. It’s a magical moment,” reported the Philadelphia Inquirer of the building’s dedication.

AIA Pennsylvania is a unifying body of the Pennsylvania Chapters of The American Institute of Architects. It promotes the profession of architecture throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania while striving for the highest quality in the built environment.

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