School of Architecture Lecture Series: Portman Visiting Critic, Karl A. Backus, AIA

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The School of Architecture presents the spring 2011 Portman Visiting Critic, Karl A. Backus, AIA, Principal, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Architects, San Francisco, as part of its spring 2011 lecture series. AIA credit available.

Portman Prize and Visiting Critic Program
The Georgia Tech School of Architecture is pleased to announce the appointment of Karl Backus, AIA of the firm Bohlin, Cywinski, Jackson as the 2011 Portman Visiting Critic. Mr. Backus is recognized for his accomplishments in the area of design excellence and technological refinement, most notably recent work with Apple, Inc. He will participate as a visiting critic, guest lecturer and serve as jury chair for the selection of the Portman Prize recipients. As Portman Visiting Critic, Mr. Backus will contribute to the School’s comprehensive building design workshop organized in the second year of the three-year Master of Architecture program. This graduate design studio integrates coursework in architectural and site design, construction technology, and the art of detail.

Karl A. Backus joined the practice of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (then called Bohlin Powell Larkin Cywinski) in 1983 and worked in the Pittsburgh office for nearly 14 years acting as project architect and designer on many of the firm’s higher educational research facilities. From early 1997 to late 2000, Karl led teams based in Pittsburgh and Berkeley on the design, documentation and construction of the phase one building of Pixar Animation Studios. After successful completion this project, together with new and expanding client opportunities, the fifth office of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson was permanently formed in California. Karl, along with Greg Mottola, presently manages the firm’s San Francisco office, which is the largest with 46 employees. Karl’s current responsibilities include design leadership and managerial overview of the Apple high profile retail stores domestically and internationally. Additionally, he has continued his focus on creative work environments with the recently completed Digital Arts Research Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the phase two buildings of Disney’s Grand Central Creative Campus that are presently under construction.

2011 Portman Prize
In order to encourage student accomplishment and excellence in the integration of technical considerations as a key constituent of the design process, the Portman Prize will be awarded by a jury comprised of the Portman Visiting Critic as jury chair; representatives of the firm of John Portman & Associates; and other invited participants. Students will be advanced to the final jury stage through a prior juried selection process. The final jury will award ranked prizes each carrying monetary awards. The top prize winner will also be offered a summer internship in the office of John Portman & Associates. Should the top winner be unable to accept the summer internship for any reason, then that offer will defer to the second or third place winner.

Student Awards

  • 1st Prize: $5000
  • 2nd Prize: $2000
  • 3rd Prize: $1000
  • Honorable Mentions: Five at $500 each

Portman Prize History
The Portman Prize and Visiting Critic Program has been generously supported  for over a decade by the Atlanta firm of John Portman & Associates, Inc. Portman is an internationally recognized architectural and engineering firm with a team of more than 40 professionals and offices in Atlanta, Georgia and Shanghai, China. Established in 1953, Portman has over 50 years of expertise in designing hotels, universities, offices, trade marts, and mixed-use urban complexes all around the world. Vision, creativity, and an entrepreneurial spirit are the fundamental factors that influence their human-centered design philosophy. Georgia Tech is proud to be a partner with Portman in advancing these values through the Portman Prize.


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