May 12, 2018 9:58:37 PM
Robert Ivy always wanted to be a writer. That may, at first, seem unusual considering that Ivy is an acclaimed master architect. Long ago, however, the Columbus native was able to merge the two interests in a distinguished career, one earning him the Noel Polk Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters (MIAL). The presentation will take place June 2 in Jackson.
This marks the first time an architect has received the Polk Award, given to living Mississippi-connected artists and art patrons whose body of work over a lifetime of creating, performing or supporting art is considered extraordinary and worthy of special honor. Ivy joins a list of esteemed Mississippians to receive the award, including Eudora Welty, Morgan Freeman, Shelby Foote, Walter Anderson and Leontyne Price.
"People on that list are my heroes from childhood," said Ivy, who is based in Washington, D.C., and frequently returns to Columbus.
"When it comes to making architecture more accessible to the general public, there's really no one else from Mississippi like Robert Ivy," said MIAL President Nancy LaForge. "As a writer, author and commentator on architecture worldwide, Ivy now takes his rightful place in an acclaimed list of Noel Polk Award honorees."
Ivy is executive vice president of The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and chief executive officer. A Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), he was formerly editor-in-chief of McGraw-Hill's Architectural Record prior to joining the AIA in 2011. Under his leadership, Architectural Record became the most widely disseminated architectural journal worldwide and garnered numerous awards, including the National Magazine Award for General Excellence.
Ivy also led McGraw-Hill's design and construction media during its explosive growth in China -- where he launched a Mandarin version of Architectural Record -- and the Middle East.
His biography "Fay Jones: Architect," published in 2001, is now in its third printing, one of many achievements on an extensive list of accomplishments and honors.
Thinking back to the origins of his affinity for words, Ivy did not have to look much farther than his own childhood home in Columbus.
"I had always loved reading and writing, from my days of going to Mrs. Alice Dwyer's library when it was on southside to check out books, to my mother, Fran Ivy, who had one of the state's only book stores in our backyard for a few years when I was in elementary school. I loved opening the boxes of books that came from New York and other places."
Ivy recalled a young assistant Dwyer had at the time -- Chebie Gaines Bateman, who would go on to spearhead the current Columbus-Lowndes Public Library.
The architecture of his hometown also made an impression on Ivy.
"It's a small town, but it's an extremely rich repository of sophisticated buildings," he said. "I've always been interested in not only the high style but also the things that define a place and make it authentic. I'm interested in the log cabins, and the mill housing is important, as is the high style of Riverview with its 18-foot ceilings."
After earning a Bachelor of Arts in English from Sewanee: The University of the South, Ivy attended Tulane University where he received a Master of Architecture degree. Prior to becoming an architect he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy.
Shortly after taking his first job in architecture, Ivy was invited to write an article for an architecture journal.
"I can remember that article to this day, researching it, writing it, seeing it in print, and the great sense of satisfaction it gave me," he said. "That article sort of launched my career as a writer of architecture. It led me down many paths of communicating about architecture."
As editor of the Architectural Record, Ivy was in a position to witness evolutionary issues.
"It has been so fulfilling to do that work, to interview people, to travel around the world and see architecture as it was unfolding," he said. "I got to watch so many things develop. I got to watch the architecture of China really come into being and see a nation profoundly change. I got to go to the Middle East and see tremendous investment, see the tallest building in the world, meet fascinating personalities. It just put me in a great position to hear, learn about and then share -- and that is what I did."
AIA President Carl Elefante, FAIA, remarked, "As the CEO of AIA since 2011, and as an author, editor and practicing architect, Robert Ivy is a worthy ambassador for our profession. This award comes as a crowning personal and professional achievement for him as a native of Mississippi."
Editor's note: Some information in this article is courtesy of a press release from the American Institute of Architects.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.