Emilio Ambasz is an architect and award-winning industrial designer.
From 1969 to 1976 he was Curator of Design at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York. Ambasz's trademark style is a combination of buildings and gardens, which he describes as 'green over grey'. He bucked the trends of the 1970s, hiding his buildings under grass or putting them on boats.
Born in Argentina (13 June 1943, Resistencia, Chaco), Ambasz is also a citizen of Spain by Royal Grant. He studied at Princeton University where he completed the undergraduate program in one year and earned, the next year, a master's degree in architecture from the same institution. Ambasz served as Curator of Design at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York (1969–76), where he directed and installed numerous exhibits on architecture and industrial design, among them Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, in 1972; The Architecture of Luis Barragan, in 1974; and The Taxi Project, in 1976; and authored their publications.
Ambasz was a two-term President of the Architectural League (1981–85). He taught at Princeton University's School of Architecture, and was visiting professor at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany. Among his architectural projects are the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan, winner of the 1976 Progressive Architecture Award; a house for a couple in Cordoba, Spain, winner of the 1980 Progressive Architecture Award; and the Conservatory at the San Antonio Botanical Center in Texas, winner of the 1985 Progressive Architecture Award, the 1988 National Glass Association Award for Excellence in Commercial Design, and the 1990 Quaternario Award. He also won the First Prize and Gold Medal ex aequo in the competition to design the Master Plan for the Universal Exhibition of 1992, which took place in Seville, Spain, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of America's discovery.
The headquarters designed for the Financial Guaranty Insurance Company of New York won the Grand Prize of the 1987 International Interior Design Award of the United Kingdom, as well as the 1986 IDEA Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America. He won the First Prize in the 1986 competition for the Urban Plan for the Eschenheimer Tower in Frankfurt, Germany. His Banque Bruxelles Lambert in Lausanne, Switzerland, received the 1983 Annual Interiors Award. Ambasz represented the United States at the 1976 Venice Biennale. In 2021, the Italian Pavilion at the Biennale paid tribute to Ambasz's creations as an inspiration for modern-era sustainable architecture.
Since 1980 until 2008 Ambasz has been the Chief Design Consultant for the Cummins Engine Co. He holds 220 industrial and mechanical design patents, and his Vertebrax chair is included in the Design Collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The MOMA has also included in its Design Collection his 1967 3-D Poster Geigy Graphics and his Flashlight, among more than 20 other pieces.
Ambasz is the author of several books on architecture and design, among them Natural Architecture, Artificial Design, first published by Electa in 2001 and re-published four times since in expanded versions. "I detest writing theories. I prefer writing fables," he said in 2017.
In the winter of 2011–12, Ambasz architectural, industrial, and graphic design work was exhibited at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, in a comprehensive major retrospective of his complete works. In 2017, Lars Mueller Publishers issued a much improved version in English (Emerging Nature: Precursor of Architecture and Design) of the book issued on the occasion of that exhibition.
The American Institute of Architects admitted him to Honorary Fellowship in recognition of distinguished achievement in the profession of architecture in May 2007. He is also an Honorary International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
In June, 2021, Ambasz was awarded an honorary degree in Building Engineering and Architecture by the University of Bologna (Italy) as a "trailblazer" for green architecture, In September 2020 Emilio Ambasz won his fourth Compasso d'Oro, for his outstanding career "as a pioneer of the relationship between buildings and nature."
The MOMA established in 2020 the Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and the Natural Environment.
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