No stranger to regional and national design awards, Julie Snow, FAIA, wins the American Institute of Architects Minnesota’s highest individual honor: the Gold Medal

By Thomas Fisher, Assoc. AIA

Julie Snow, the founding partner of the Minneapolis firm Snow Kreilich Architects, has won the 2014 AIA Minnesota Gold Medal, capping a remarkable and still very active career as one of the most recognized Minnesota architects in the U.S. You can tell a lot about architects from the awards they win. Over the past dozen years, for example, she and her firm have received 44 awards, an amazing record that says a great deal about Snow as an architect and about why she so deserved the Gold Medal.

Many of those awards came from AIA Minnesota or AIA National, which shows the esteem in which her peers hold her and her work. Since 2003, Snow Kreilich has won 13 AIA Minnesota awards for its buildings or its leadership in the profession, as well as an AIA National Honor Award and four awards from the AIA magazine, Architect.

The diversity of the recognized work is equally remarkable. Julie Snow’s office has won awards for buildings ranging from houses, apartments, and condominiums to offices, border stations, and a school. “We like to do it all,” says Snow, with her infectious laugh. But her modesty belies the extraordinary difficulty of winning so many awards for so many different building types, a feat that very few architects achieve.

She attributes this success in part to the research her firm does for every project. “We don’t start designing until we’ve done the work to understand the real issues in a project,” she said recently over lunch. That up-front work pays ample dividends on the back end, with buildings that not only solve clients’ programmatic needs but also strategically address their larger goals.

That strategic sensibility came through clearly in some of her first published work: three industrial buildings for plastics manufacturers in western Wisconsin. Published in the second-to-last issue of Progressive Architecture magazine, those buildings had both a restrained elegance rarely seen in American industrial architecture and internal layouts that broke down the traditional barriers between labor and management and that gave workers the same access to daylight and views as their bosses’.

This transformational approach to projects has also led Julie Snow’s firm to win recognition from the business press—Finance & Commerce and Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal—and several awards from one of her primary clients, the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA). The winner of a GSA Honor Award this year, the U.S. Land Port of Entry in Van Buren, Maine, shows how Snow Kreilich’s research yielded not only a functional and efficient building but also a brilliantly conceived work of architecture designed around the idea of “surveillance and camouflage” necessary to guard our borders.

The conceptual clarity of all of Snow Kreilich’s work has earned the firm other types of awards as well, including those from honorary societies (American Academy of Arts and Letters), the construction industry (Holcim Foundation, Builder magazine), and the public (Minneapolis St. Paul magazine, Heritage Preservation Commission). Such recognition demonstrates how architecture grounded in the reality of modern life greatly interests a lot of people.

We in Minnesota are fortunate to have an architect of Julie Snow’s talent working in our midst. Her presence reinforces the justifiable claim that this region is home to some of the best designers in the country. But it also seems inevitable, for what could be more apt than Julie Snow reaching the pinnacle of her profession—AIA Minnesota’s Gold Medal—in snow country?