Elbert M. Conover Award

In addition to the Religious Art and Architecture Awards, the AIA Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art, and Architecture (IFRAA) sponsors the Elbert M. Conover Memorial Award and the Edward S. Frey Award. Unlike the Religious Art and Architecture Awards, this award is bestowed upon individuals rather than projects.

The Elbert M. Conover Memorial Award was established in 1953 by the Church Architecture Guild of America. It was later administered by the Guild for Religious Architecture, IFRAA Inc., and then by the AIA IFRAA Knowledge Community. This award is given to non-architects in recognition of their contributions to religious architecture in order to: 

  • Perpetuate in the hearts and minds of those interested in religious architecture memories of our deceased leader;
  • Encourage leaders, outside the architecture profession, to crusade for better religious architecture;
  • Recognize outstanding individuals who merit citation for their excellence in fostering spiritual values.

Dr. Conover spent 11 years in the ministry and was appointed director of the Bureau of Architecture of the Methodist Church in 1924. He became the first director of the Interdenominational Bureau of Architecture, later titled the Bureau of Church Building and Architecture, National Council of the Churches of Christ of the United States of America.

Congratulations to our 2017 awardee, Rabbi David Stern! The next call for nominations for the Conover Award will open early 2019.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture (IFRAA) selected Rabbi David Stern, as the 2017 recipient of the Elbert M. Conover Memorial Award. This award is given to non-architects in recognition of their contributions to religious architecture in order to perpetuate in the hearts and minds of those interested in religious architecture memories of our deceased leader; encourage leaders, outside the architecture profession, to crusade for better religious architecture; recognize outstanding individuals who merit citation for their excellence in fostering spiritual values.

Rabbi Stern is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, a Reform Congregation of 2500 families and one of the largest in the United States. Rabbi Stern has served at Temple Emanu-El since 1989, first as Associate Rabbi and then as Senior Rabbi since 1996. Rabbi Stern exemplifies the spirit of the Conover Award, demonstrating a passion for quality worship and sacred spaces, fostering spiritual values and promoting cross-denominational community.

Under Rabbi Stern’s leadership, Temple Emanu-El has broadened its cross-denominational outreach, both providing education and resources to interfaith families within the Temple community and through shared activities with congregations of other denominations. Temple initiated a program of Interfaith Shabbat events, where Rabbi Stern and clergy from other denominations exchange leadership of their respective services. Rabbi Stern has collaborated for years with his friend Reverend George Mason, Senior Pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church. In addition to education and interfaith community events, the two led a bi-congregational trip to Israel in 2014.

Rabbi Stern is an active participant in Dallas Area Interfaith, and hosted President Obama at Temple when he visited Dallas in 2013 to recognize that organization for its advocacy for Medication Expansion and efforts to educate citizens on the Affordable Care Act. Rabbi Stern was invited by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to speak at the Interfaith Prayer Vigil after the assassination of five Dallas Police officers in July 2016, and Mayor Rawlings in turn spoke about the importance of inter-denominational community at the dedication of the Our Temple | Our Future project in September. The concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) is fundamental to Jewish life, and Temple Social Justice activities support a wide variety of secular and interfaith initiatives.

Temple Emanu-El has recently completed a major addition and renovation project, a ten-year journey from the initial congregational listening campaign through two generations of master plan to design and construction. Rabbi Stern led with vision, passion, effort and engagement in guiding this transformational project.

“In a cultural, societal and spiritual moment when people feel increasingly disconnected, unmoored and fragmented, any spiritual home worth its salt would have to be a place that fostered meaningful connections.” – Rabbi David Stern

Named “Our Temple | Our Future”, the primary goal of the project was to create a place of genuine community, allowing people to connect with one another and with the larger community, with tradition and with sacred purpose. Responding to the fundamental human need to see and be seen, the design removes obstructions to visibility and light, as well as improving functional passage within the building. This sense of transparency, particularly between inside and out, encourages a visual conversation between human creativity and nature’s creation. Emphasizing openness and welcome rather than security or insularity reflects the congregation’s commitment to social justice and connection to the larger world outside.

The project encompassed new spaces for an active early childhood education program as well as intergenerational learning and meeting spaces, new administrative and clergy offices, and renovation of the existing chapel and main sanctuary. Recognized with both the 25-year Award and the 50-year Award from Dallas AIA, the original 1957 building by Howard Meyer and Max Sandfield provided little space for informal interaction and community gathering.

Perhaps the most transformative intervention is a new gathering space which provides a venue for both programmed activities and spontaneous conversations, functioning as a place of arrival and welcome and serving as a hub which connects worship, social and office spaces. The project also includes a new 500-seat chapel, named for Rabbi Stern at the request of the project’s lead donor. While each existing worship space was remarkable in its own right, neither the majestic 750-seat Olan Sanctuary nor the austere 200-seat Lefkowitz Chapel reflected the current needs of the congregation for everyday worship.

The new Stern Chapel provides a “right sized” mix of fixed and movable seating, oriented to allow visibility of other worshipers as well as service leaders, with acoustics to encourage participation. Where the historic sanctuary separated the officiants from the congregation on a narrow high bimah (the platform from which the service is led,) the new chapel provides a wide, low bimah, with movable modular platforms to allow easy reconfiguration and allow placing the service leaders closer to the center of the space for more direct communication with the audience. A serene and beautiful room all of white oak, the chapel faces east where a wall of glass offers views of a garden dominated by four huge live oak trees.

“The space makes the idea of relationship primary in the prayer experience – our relationship to nature, our relationships to one another, our relationship to Torah in an ark of color and light, our relationship to the holy in every dimension of living.” – Rabbi David Stern

The public announcement of the Conover Award will be during the Sunset Social on April 26 during the AIA Conference on Architecture 2017 in Orlando. 

Eligible nominees for the Elbert M. Conover Award must match the following criteria:

  • Be a non-architect;
  • Demonstrate a passion for and dedication to quality worship and sacred spaces;
  • Foster spiritual values;
  • Promote a cross-denominational community focused on religious arts and architecture

*Who? Clergy, writers, educators, liturgical consultants, artists, etc.

Nominations for 2017 are accepted from IFRAA members from January 1, 2017 to February 1, 2017.

There is no entry fee.

The nomination should consist of:

  • One letter of nomination detailing how the nominee meets each of three award criteria. The letter should be addressed to the "Conover Award Jury."
  • Optional supporting materials. Materials might include a resume, testimonials, imagery, a bibliography, etc. The supporting materials are limited to five letter-sized PDF pages.

To submit a nomination, please upload your PDF file via this online form (now closed).

The award recipient will be celebrated along with the Religious Art and Architecture Awards at The Sunset Social Hosted by the AIA Knowledge Communities within the 2017 AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando. The reception will be held on April 26, 2017 from 6-8 PM. Tickets are $35 and available through the A'17 website.

A modest stipend is available to offset the cost of travel to the event. 

Recipients are selected by a panel of their peers and IFRAA members including: 

  • Two (2) previous Conover Award Recipients
  • Three (3) Subject Matter Experts (architects) identified by IFRAA
  • Two (2) non-architect members of IFRAA

Members of the 2017 Jury are:

E. Crosby Willet, 2002 recipient
Wilson Yates, PhD, 2015 recipient 
Stephen Pickard, AIA
James Theimer, AIA
Scott Dale Hall, AIA

1953 Elbert M. Conover
1956 Edward Frey
1956 Dr. William Kincaid Newman
1963 Henry Lee Willet 
1965 G. E. Kidder-Smith 
1966 Rev. H. A. Reinhold 
1967 Rev. J. Gordon Davies 
1969 J. Irwin Miller 
1970 William S. Clark 
1971 Harry Downie 
1972 Rev. Glenn Gothard 
1973 Rev. James Doom 
1974 Beverly R. Tucker 
1975 Joseph Sittler 
1976 Rev. Godfrey Diekman 
1977 Rolland Sheafor 
1979 Robert E. Rambusch 
1984 Donald J. Bruggink 
1988 Hal Watkins 
1990 Richard Vosko 
1996 Betty Meyer 
2000 Al Fisher 
2002 E. Crosby Willet 
2007 D. Patrick Russell, PhD
2010 Rev. W. Joseph Mann
2011 Lawrence J. Madden, S.J.
2013 Dr. Marchita B. Mauck
2015 Wilson Yates, PhD
2017 Rabbi David Stern

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture (IFRAA) selected Wilson Yates, Ph. D., as the 2015 recipient of the Elbert M. Conover Memorial Award. This award is given to non-architects in recognition of their contributions to religious architecture in order to perpetuate in the hearts and minds of those interested in religious architecture memories of our deceased leader; encourage leaders, outside the architecture profession, to crusade for better religious architecture; recognize outstanding individuals who merit citation for their excellence in fostering spiritual values.

Dr. Yates is President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Religion, Society and the Arts of United Theological Seminary.  He is editor emeritus of ARTS which he founded and edited for 25 years; current board chair of  the Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies (SARTS) which he helped found and serve as its president;  American Chair of ACE, the Arts and Christian Enquiry, an international group of scholars working in the area of religion and the arts; and the past president and current board member of CARE, The Center for the Arts, Religion and Education at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.  His works in the field of theology and the arts includes numerous articles, book chapters, and reviews as well as the books Arts, Theology, and the Church, edited with Kim Vrudny, 2005;  The Grotesque in Religion, Art and Literature, Theological Reflections edited with James Luther Adams, 1997; and  Theological Education and the Arts,  1987. He has recently been honored with a festschrift, Visual Theology, edited by Robin Jensen and Kimberly Vrudny   (2009) where church architecture is treated.  As President of United Seminary, he spearheaded the building of the seminary’s  Bigelow Chapel—a chapel which was awarded a best religious building award by the AIA in 2004. He currently remains on the faculty of United Seminary teaching in theology and the arts, working with its religion and arts program, and now serving on the Chapel’s committee on the tenth anniversary celebration.  

His special work with architecture has included the teaching of graduate seminars in London and Cambridge on religious architecture from the Saxon period to the modern with a focus on the works of Christopher Wren; courses that treat religious architecture in each major period of Christian history, and courses that worked with selected historical and contemporary religious buildings in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism with lectures on this subject in seminars at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.  He has given lectures that treated architecture at Bethel College (Kansas), Bangor Theological School (Maine), St. John’s University School of Theology,  the Minneapolis regional meeting of IFRAA, the ACE Conference in Cambridge, England; and he has written articles on the Bigelow Chapel which he helped initiate and guide to completion at United Seminary.  As editor of the journal ARTS he selected for publications works on religious architecture, architecture and the liturgical arts, the liturgical arts, and the ethical dimensions of buildings, and he has  treated architecture in his books on The Arts and Theological Education, and Arts, Theology and the Church.  He has served as a theological consultant for church restoration and building projects.   At the present time he is working on the ethics of buildings including domestic, commercial, and religious structures. 

The Conover Award will be presented on May 15 during the AIA's National Convention in Atlanta. 
Kathleen Simpson, CAE
Director, Knowledge Communities
1735 New York Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20006
202.626.7450
kathleensimpson@aia.org
ifraa@aia.org