The Journey to Urbahn Medal


By Ed Gauvreau, FAIA, M.SAME

As much as the path to gaining Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) was long and winding, becoming the 21st recipient of the SAME Urbahn Medal was an equally interesting and divergent road.  It was especially challenging when the bulk of your work over the years does not involve extensive major military construction projects or programs, but incremental work at various installations or developing policy for such programs.

As an introduction, the Urbahn Medal is the only award given by the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) for achievement in architecture.  The medal is named for Max O. Urbahn, FAIA, former President of AIA and principal of Urbahn Architects in New York City.  He designed many structures for military and public agencies throughout his career – his most known building is the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral, Florida, which is depicted on the medal (see attached photo).  The first award of the Urbahn Medal was to Harold Adams, FAIA, RIBA in 1996.  Two past Urbahn Medal recipients were chairs of this committee – Terry Emmons, FAIA and Paula Loomis, FAIA, FSAME.

When I started my federal career in the Directorate of Facilities and Engineering at Fort Stewart, Georgia in 1981, I was pretty raw as far as fitting into a workplace.  Having spent the prior year recovering from a compound leg fracture did not help my psyche, not to mention the move from my hometown in Michigan to southern Georgia.  In time, with help and patience from my new found colleagues, I found my architectural legs and became part of the team.  Subsequent jobs at two other installations, a brief foray at USACE Detroit District, plus six years with the Food and Drug Administration, prepared me to handle virtually any facility situation.

The great advantage of working at a Public Works Department is that one gets to assume total responsibility for a project early on.  If you’re the only architect in the office, you get it all:  meeting with clients, assess needs, develop designs from schematic through construction documents, learn to write specifications (sometimes creating new ones for materials that didn’t have guide specs), develop cost estimates – and most importantly, staying within budgets.  Equally important was learning unlike school, no one succeeds alone – you need to build relationships with both your colleagues and client groups (especially given the usual military turnover).

My first extensive experience with USACE was as a Project Director with the Corps’ Medical Facilities Center of Expertise.  For the first time I managed sizable projects, ranging from $4 million to over $150 million, with a very supportive environment and colleagues who were truly world-class experts.  Truth be told, it remains the best job I have had in my career.  However, time and circumstances dictated some changes – in the first 6 months of 2001, I held four different jobs in four different locations.

The last job turned out to be the most broadening of my career – becoming executive assistant to Bill Brown, P.E., F.SAME, Hon. AIA, who was the Director of Military Programs at HQ USACE.  I received exposure to the entire USACE organization and beyond, building relationships across the Army and other services that are valuable.  I also was forced to stretch my abilities beyond my comfort zone, taking on tasks and duties that were initially foreign but soon became routine.

Since 2003, I made a partial return to my installation roots by joining the Installation Support Division.  Through this association I became involved in the Corps’ master planning work, becoming the springboard to be promoted to Chief, Planning Branch and oversee the body of work that ultimately became the basis for my applications for both honors.

Lessons I have learned and continue to learn:  1) always be open to opportunities – you never know where they may take you; 2) master your job and your profession – a sound foundation will always help you get through tough times; 3) always leave on good terms – more than likely paths will cross multiple times through your career and life.

Ed Gavreau, FAIA, is the Deputy Chief of the Installation Support Division at the Headquarters of the US Army Corps of Engineers in Washington DC. Mr. Gauvreau, was the AIA’s Public Architects Adivsory Group Chair in 2014 and implemented a highly successful and well attended Public Architects Workshop at the 2014 AIA National Convention in Chicago. He has continued to collaborate and assist in the public architects committee. Architects in the public sector contribute their professional expertise through diverse opportunities and this article chronicles Ed’s exemplary leadership experience in several Federal agencies such as the US Army Corps of Engineers, US Food and Drug Administration, and Fort Stewart, Georgia, etc. His notable contributions in the Federal Government were acknowledged in his being awarded the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Urbahn Medal.