March 5, 2021
Jen Wood and Emanuel Admassu, Founding Principals, AD-WO. Portrait by Rachel Hulin.

Rice Design Alliance announces AD–WO as the 2021 Spotlight Award recipient. The award recognizes the work of exceptionally gifted national and international architects in the early stages of their professional career who have demonstrated design excellence and curiosity through their body of work. As part of their award, AD–WO will present the lecture “Immeasurability,” virtually via Zoom, on Wednesday, April 14, at 12:00 p.m. CST.

“I’m immensely proud of our ability to continue to provide this award to diverse practices from around the globe for almost 20 years now. In moments of crisis as the one we’re currently living, directing our attention at meaningful and socially-conscious design is an important act of advocacy and one that I’m glad RDA can continue to stand by through our annual Spotlight award,” said Maria Nicanor, Executive Director, Rice Design Alliance.

Founded in 2015 by Jen Wood and Emanuel Admassu, AD–WO is an art and architecture practice based in Providence, Rhode Island, and by extension, between Melbourne and Addis Ababa. The practice aims to establish an operational terrain between architecture’s content and container: equally committed to designing buildings and reimagining their dynamic sociopolitical contexts.

“What I find most compelling about AD–WO’s research-driven practice is its social conscience manifested in all projects, particularly the housing proposals in Addis Ababa, one of the firm’s home bases, that reconsider local African typologies within specific social and political contexts,” said John J. Casbarian, Interim Dean of Rice Architecture and the Harry K. and Albert K. Smith Professor of Architecture.

The firm has undertaken various projects in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Korea, Germany, and the United States, engaging with multi-family residential, agricultural township revitalization, civic infrastructure, collaborative art installations, and exhibition design. Their work has been exhibited at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, Architekturmueum der TU München, and Art Omi. They are currently developing a mid-sized apartment building in Addis Ababa and are responsible for an installation in the exhibition Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America, which opened earlier this week at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

When asked about their view on architecture and some of their recent work, AD–WO said, "If architecture is a discipline that encloses spaces, making it measurable and exploitable, then how can we think of an architecture without measure? An architecture that refuses enclosure and borderization?"

The Spotlight Award was founded in 2009 under the leadership of Rice Architecture alumnus Lonnie Hoogeboom with Interim Dean John J. Casbarian, Rice Architecture Professor Carlos Jiménez, and University of Houston Professor of Architecture Rafael Longoria, who form the core of the selection committee together with RDA Executive Director Maria Nicanor.

Every year, the Spotlight Award Committee, formed by architects, academics, and design practitioners, convenes to consider local, national, and international architects. This year the selection committee also included Brittany Utting, Assistant Professor at Rice Architecture, and Rafael Beneytez-Durán, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design at the University of Houston.

“From the design of housing typologies in Addis Ababa to the analysis of social structures in sub-Saharan marketplaces, AD–WO’s work examines critical issues of representation and decolonization through architecture,” said Utting.

The Spotlight Award, which also carries a monetary prize, is by invitation only and is entering its second decade of selecting young, unconventional and thought-provoking architectural practices from around the globe.

For event details and to register, click here.

About RDA

Rice Design Alliance is the public programs and outreach arm of Rice Architecture. We curate public programs, architecture tours, design competitions and publications that communicate the importance of design in our everyday lives and its ability to make our lives better. We are based at and work from the Rice Architecture school as an advocacy group that believes that multidisciplinary and research-based design can improve our cities and the way we live in them. 

RDA was established within Rice Architecture in 1972 by the school's first dean, David Crane, together with alumni and other civic-minded community members who believed that quality design thinking should be available to all in our community and that Houston’s citizens – experts and non-experts alike – should feel empowered to act and transform our city through design.