The Bruner way of judging gives design work the meaning, dignity, importance, and relevance to the community that it deserves.
Susan Szenasy | Publisher and Editor-in-Chief METROPOLIS Magazine
The Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence (RBA) is a national design award that uncovers and illuminates the subtle and difficult process of making beautiful, just, and resilient places. The extensive application and selection process and detailed documentation of the winners are intended to stretch the understanding of the project and to encourage dialogue between the parties involved in the processes.
One gold medal and four silver medals are awarded each biennial, with the gold medalist receiving a $50,000 cash prize and each silver medalist receiving $10,000. Since 1988 the RBA has recognized 88 transformative places in the United States that have contributed to the economic, environmental, and social vitality of their communities.
Each cycle begins with a Call for Entries in September with applications due in December. The comprehensive application is intended to reveal the story of the project’s development and design and to elicit multiple perspectives of its evolution and impact. To be eligible, projects must be urban, built (not just a plan or a program) and in operation long enough to demonstrate impact, and located within the contiguous United States.
Winners are chosen by a six-member selection committee comprised anew each cycle. Each committee includes a mayor and participant from a prior award-winning project along with other experts in urban design and planning, development and financing, and community engagement.
The committee meets twice: once (in winter) to review and discuss all of the applications and select five finalists, and again (in spring) to determine the gold and silver medalists. In between, a team from the Bruner Foundation visits each finalist, spending two to three days touring the site, taking photographs, and interviewing people involved in the project to gather additional information.
Once the medalists are determined, the Bruner Foundation works with local representatives to plan events that celebrate the medalists and reflect the unique character and culture of each place. Public programming—such as tours, presentations, and panel discussions—and related publicity provide opportunities to highlight their stories and spur dialogue.
Each winner is documented with a detailed case study that chronicles the development process—including design, financing, and operations—and impact in the community, along with a distillation of the selection committee’s discussions. Observations and lessons learned gleaned from the site visits, selection process, and medalists, along with the countless conversations that take place over the course of each award cycle are summarized in an essay.
The books and lessons learned essays from each award cycle are published online and in a book by the Bruner Foundation. Applications and case studies from award winning projects can also be viewed on the University of Buffalo Rudy Bruner Award Digital Archive. The RBA shares these resources via newsletters, public programming and publications produced in collaboration with local and national partners.
The biennial award was put on hold indefinitely in 2020. In Fall 2022 the RBA will transition to the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, the culmination of a decades-long partnership with the school and Dean Robert Shibley. It will begin a new chapter as a resource and tool for research, scholarship, and practice. Stay tuned for more details to come.