Architect Nader Tehrani ’81 Honored as the 2020-21 Hotchkiss Alumni Award Recipient

Photo by Carmen Maldonado

In a virtual All-School Meeting on April 5, internationally renowned architect Nader Tehrani ’81 was honored as the 2020-21 Hotchkiss Alumni Award recipient. In his address, Tehrani jokingly remarked that given his academic record as a student at Hotchkiss, it was “a miracle” he was chosen for the School’s highest alumni tribute. Learn more about Tehrani's work by watching a replay of the event below.

“It is just a profound honor to return to Hotchkiss for such an occasion and something that could not have been farther from my imagination,” he said.

Today, Nader’s accomplishments and contributions to architecture and design are recognized around the world.  He currently serves as the dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union in New York and previously was a professor of architecture at MIT, where he served as the head of the department from 2010-2014. He is also principal of NADAAA, a practice dedicated to the advancement of design innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, and an intensive dialogue with the construction industry. For his contributions to architecture as an art, Nader Tehrani was awarded the 2020 Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, to which he was also elected as a Member in 2021.

Studio hall of the Melbourne School of Design, at Melbourne University, completed 2015

His Hotchkiss teachers, he said, were critical to his development as an architect.. “They didn’t just teach me things, they allowed me to learn. They had vastly different teaching styles, and so much of my interest stemmed from seeing them teach.  … I did not set out to teach, as much as I imagined myself emulating certain atmospheres they created in allowing me to learn.” 

After Hotchkiss, Tehrani received a B.F.A. and a B.Arch. from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and continued his studies at the Architectural Association in London, where he attended the Post-Graduate program in History and Theory. Upon his return to the United States, Tehrani received the M.A.U.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1991.  

He has taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, RISD, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Toronto’s Department of Architecture, where he served as the Frank O. Gehry International Visiting Chair in Architectural Design, Landscape and Design. His research on materiality, fabrication and tectonics has been published internationally in a variety of journals. Over the past seven years, NADAAA has consistently ranked as a top design firm in Architect Magazine's Top 50 U.S. Firms List, ranking as First three of those years.

At the Hotchkiss Alumni Award ceremony, Tehrani made his acceptance remarks to a virtual audience of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Head of School Craig Bradley introduced him, and Paul Mutter ’87, representing the Alumni Association and the Board of Governors Nominating Committee, congratulated him as the newest recipient of the distinguished award. At the close of the program, numerous classmates and friends also gave spirited tributes to honor him. 

Writer Chase Reynolds Ewald ’81 joined him virtually for a discussion of his Hotchkiss years and career. Tehrani spoke about his early global education as the child of an Iranian diplomat. He had lived in four countries and learned the basics of three languages before he came to the School in 1978 as a lower mid. “Growing up between England, Pakistan, South Africa, and Iran -- all two to four years at a time -- my language skills lagged behind. So, somehow visual literacy served as a substitute, and learning to see became a way of internalizing the world around me.” When he first saw the Main Building, (designed by architect Hugh Stubbins in 1970) in February 1978,  the building’s design immediately resonated with him.  The current Main Building façade was designed by Shope Reno Wharton in 1995.

“I had no real sense about going into architecture when I came to Hotchkiss, but upon arrival, after turning in through the gate, the abstraction of Stubbins’s façade and the impenetrability of its monumentality put me in a state of awe. In effect, it was an architectural experience before I knew such a thing existed. 

“Drama and art history turned out to be the two courses that lit a fire under me. And Blanche Hoar (then head of the art department) had everything to do with that; her energy, her tone, and her passion are something I will always remember, and more than anything else the encouragement she gave, instilling in me a confidence unworthy of anything I had yet accomplished, but something that was in great need in order to forge ahead.”

At the end of his remarks, Tehrani shared a video of a project his firm is currently working on in Venice that illustrated the creative design achieved using a material made from naturally renewable resources. “We will all have to become better activists ourselves,” he told the community.

South façade of the Rock Creek House, in Washington, D.C., completed 2016

“Let me begin by saying that the scale of crisis is no longer merely urban, but territorial. Our knowledge and data of the world at a geographic scale suggests phenomena that far outweighs our actions at an architectural scale. For this reason, large-scale decisions about the human footprint would need to be reassessed, and in effect, if we would want to imagine our own survival in the coming centuries, it would mean that we have to de-center the human out of the equation to prioritize other ecologies first.”

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