CUNY Director of Design, Construction and Management Wins New York AIA 1998 Public Architect Award

Lia Gartner, Director of Design, Construction and Management for The City University of New York, is the winner of the 1998 Public Architect Award, presented by the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter. The award, established in 1984, formally acknowledges the achievements of architects “who have made significant contributions while working with the public sector.”

“This prestigious professional award salutes the consistent high standard of work Ms. Gartner has set for the University and provides important recognition of the attractive qualities of CUNY campuses,” said CUNY Interim Chancellor Christoph M. Kimmich.

Ms. Gartner has managed over 400 new construction and renovation projects, valued at more than $1.66 billion, throughout the University system since joining CUNY in 1995. These have included major expansion of several urban campuses, master plans and modernization of existing buildings as part of the Office of Facilities Planning, Construction and Management headed by Vice Chancellor Emma E. Macari.

The AIA citation stated, “She has brought her unique abilities as an architect to this role, striving for enduring quality and sustaining a sense of urgency for the values essential to good design and construction in the public realm. At CUNY, and in her previous position at the Department of General Services, she has worked to shape an organization of professionals to become an informed and demanding client. Her efforts to create a climate of support and cooperation, while demanding the highest quality of design, have reshaped the public face of the City University for the twenty-first century.”

William Pedersen, principal in the architectural firm of Kohn, Pedersen, Fox, who has worked with Ms. Gartner on the new building for Baruch College on Lexington Avenue and East 25th street over the past three years, said, `Lia Gartner is my model of the architect acting responsibly and creatively within a public agency. She is a tireless advocate for quality and she knows it when she sees it. If she does not find it, she offers the spark to achieve it.”

He particularly noted her observations relating to “the central room, a sort of vertical quadrangle that we were developing within the building as its central focus. Constantly, she was encouraging us to develop the scale of the space so that it was conducive to conversation, communication and gathering. Spaces within spaces, stair landings as mini lounges and breaking down large scale into smaller, more human, elements was her consistent focus.”

Among other well-known architects who supported her nomination for the award was Rafael Vinoly, who called her “the most inspiring promoter of design quality in the public sector” who has “always represented the case of architecture as a cultural force, in a field where it is often considered simply as a mere consultancy.” Hugh Hardy, of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, said, “An advocate of clear, intelligent solutions to architectural problems, she challenges fellow professionals to do their best.”

Ms. Gartner, who had been Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Program Management at the New York City Department of General Services, Division of Design and Construction Services, joined that agency in 1986.

Earlier she taught architectural design at the New Jersey Institute of Technology School of Architecture and at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, where she was also a guest critic. She has been a guest critic at the City College School of Architecture since 1995.

While teaching full-time, she was a principal in her own architectural firm from 1980 to 1986. She also had worked as an architect with Johnson/Burghee Architects, Ulrich Franzen and Associates, and I.M.Pei and Partners.

A graduate of Radcliffe College, Harvard University, she earned her Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture and Planning. Ms. Gartner is a resident of Manhattan. Born and brought up in Transylvania, she lived in Paris for two years and emigrated to the United States before enrolling in college.