Emilio Ambasz, born in 1943 in Argentina and also a citizen of Spain by Royal Grant, has studied at Princeton University. He completed the undergraduate program in one year and earned, the next year, a Master’s Degree in Architecture from the same institution. He served as Curator of Design at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York (1969-1976), where he directed and installed numerous influential exhibitions on architecture and industrial design, among them Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, in 1972; The Architecture of Luis Barragán, in 1974; and The Taxi Project, in 1976. Mr. Ambasz was a two-term President of the Architectural League (1981–1985). He taught at Princeton University’s School of Architecture, was visiting professor at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany, and has lectured at many important American universities.
Mr. Ambasz’s large number of prestigious projects includes the Mycal Cultural Center in Japan, the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City; and an innovative design of the Conservatory at the San Antonio Botanical Center, Texas, which was inaugurated in 1988. Among his award winning projects are the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan, winner of the 1976 Progressive Architecture Award; a house for a couple in Seville, Spain, winner of the 1980 Progressive Architecture Award; and for the Conservatory at the San Antonio Botanical Center in Texas he has awarded the 1985 Progressive Architecture Award, the 1988 National Glass Association Award for Excellence in Commercial Design, and the highly esteemed 1990 Quaternario Award for high technological achievement.
His Banque Bruxelles Lambert in Lausanne, Switzerland, a bank interior, received the 1983 Annual Interiors Award, as well as a Special Commendation from the jury. His design for the Banque Bruxelles Lambert branch in Milan, Italy, and his design for their New York City branch at Rockefeller Center have been completed. He won the First Prize and Gold Medal in the closed competition to design the Master Plan for the Universal Exhibition of 1992, which took place in Seville, Spain, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of America’s discovery. This project was also granted the 1986 Architectural Projects Award, from the American Institute of Architects/New York. The headquarters he designed for the Financial Guaranty Insurance Company of New York won the Grand Prize of the 1987 International Interior Design Award of the United Kingdom, as well as the 1986 IDEA Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA). He won First Prize in the 1986-closed competition for the Urban Plan for the Eschenheimer Tower in Frankfurt, West Germany. The magazine Progressive Architecture in 1987 and the American Institute of Architects, New York, in its 1986 Architectural Projects Award, cited for awards the Mercedes Benz Showroom design.
Mr. Ambasz represented America at the 1976 Venice Biennale. He has been the subject of numerous international publications as well as museum and art gallery exhibitions, principal among them the Leo Castelli Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Philadelphia and Chicago Art Institutes. An exhibition entitled Emilio Ambasz: 10 Years of Architecture, Graphic and Industrial Design, was held in Milan in the fall of 1983, traveling to Madrid in May 1984, and Zurich in the fall of 1984.
The Axis Design and Architecture Gallery of Tokyo dedicated a special exhibition of his work in April 1985. In 1986, the Institute of Contemporary Art of Geneva, Switzerland at ‘Halle Sud’ and, in 1987, the ‘Arc-en-Ciel’ Gallery of the Centre of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux, France also presented one-man shows of his work. In 1989, a retrospective of Mr. Ambasz’s architectural designs, Emilio Ambasz: Architecture, was held at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and a second traveling exhibition, Emilio Ambasz: Architecture, Exhibition, Industrial and Graphic Design, was held in June of 1989 at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, traveling to, among others, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Montreal, the Akron Art Museum in Ohio, the Art Institute of Chicago in Illinois, and the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis. Another retrospective of Mr. Ambasz’s complete works was held in 1993 at the Tokyo Station Gallery in Japan, and in 1994 at the Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporaneo in Mexico City, as well as in other locations in South America and Europe.
Major international publications, Domus, ON, Space and Design, Architectural Record and Architecture plus Urbanism, among others, have dedicated special issues to his architectural work. In 1989 Rizzoli International Publications printed a monograph of Mr. Ambasz’s work to coincide with his exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. Again in 1993 Rizzoli International Publications printed a second monograph chronicling Mr. Ambasz’s complete works.
Mr. Ambasz also holds a number of industrial and mechanical design patents. Since 1980 he has been the Chief Design Consultant for the Cummins Engine Co., a company internationally celebrated for its enlightened support of architecture and design. He has received numerous industrial design awards. Included among them are the Gold Prize awarded for his co-design of the Vertebra Seating System by the IBD (USA) in 1977, the SMAU Prize (Italy) in 1979, and the coveted Compasso d’Oro (Italy) in 1981. In 1991 Mr. Ambasz was again awarded the Compasso d’Oro (Italy) prize for his new seating design, Qualis.
The Vertebra chair is included in the Design Collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, has also included in its Design Collection his 1967 3-D Poster Geigy Graphics and his Flashlight, a design also cited for awards by the Compasso d’Oro (Italy) in 1987 and the IDSA in 1987. His design for Cummins’ N14 Diesel Engine won the 1985 Annual Design Review from Industrial Design magazine. This publication also awarded him similar prizes in 1980 for his Logotec spotlight range (which also received the 1980 IDSA Design Excellence Award), in 1983 for the Oseris spotlight range, as well as in 1986 for his design of Escargot, an air filter designed for Fleetguard Incorporated.
In 1987, the Industrial Designers Society of America granted its Industrial Design Excellence top award for his Soffio, a modular lighting system. In 1988, the IDSA awarded him the same top honor and in 1989, the ID Designer’s Choice Award for design excellence and innovation was given for Aquacolor, a watercolor set. More recently, in 1992, IDSA again awarded Mr. Ambasz top honors for his innovative design of the Handkerchief Television, as well as awards for his Sunstar Toothbrushes and the Soft Notebook, and in 2000, the IDSA/Business Week GOLD AWARD for Design Excellence went to Mr. Ambasz for Saturno, an innovative street lighting system. The Tenth Biennial of Industrial Design (BIO 10, Ljubljana, 1984) granted Mr. Ambasz their Jury Special Award ‘for his many contributions to the design field.’
In 1997, Mr. Ambasz received the Vitruvius Award from the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes for the innovative quality in his work. Recently, the Mycal Cultural Center in Shin-Sanda, constructed within close proximity to the epicenter of the devastating Kobe earthquake, received a special award from the Japanese Department of Public Works. Its high quality of construction and structural integrity allowed it to withstand this overwhelming natural disaster. This building, the Mycal Cultural Center at Shin Sanda, Japan, received the 2000 Saflex Design Award. In 1999, his design for Cummins Signature 600 Engine received an Industrial Designers Society of America/ Business Week Award for Design Excellence and in 2000 he received from the same group the Gold Award for his design of Saturno, an urban lighting pole system. The very prestigious American Institute of Architects’ Business Week/Architectural Record Award was granted in 2000 to Mr. Ambasz for his design of the Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall in Fukuoka, Japan. The same building received in 2001 the First Prize for environmental architecture from the Japanese Institute of Architects.
Monument Towers in Phoenix, Arizona, was awarded the American Architectural Award in 2002, sponsored by The Chicago Athenaeum. In 2001, Mr. Ambasz received the coveted Compasso d’Oro (Italy) for an unprecedented third time for his design of Saturno. Mr. Ambasz was awarded Gold in iF design award 2003 with his chair design Stacker sponsored by iF (International Forum for Design).
Mr. Ambasz is the author of several books on architecture and design. The most recent publications on his work are: Natural Architecture, Artificial Design was published in four successive re-editions by Electa in 2001. Emilio Ambasz – A Technological Arcadia with essays by Fulvio Irace and colophon by Paolo Portoghesi was published by Skira in 2004. Emilio Ambasz. Casa de Retiro Espiritual with photographs by Michele Alassio and an essay by Peter Buchanan was published on the occasion of the exhibition of the Casa de Retiro Espiritual at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2005. He has since been awarded the highly esteemed Medalla Manuel Tolsá for significant contribution and enrichment to the field of architecture from La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in 2007. The American Institute of Architects admitted him to Honorary Fellowship in recognition of distinguished achievement in the profession of architecture in May 2007. He is also an Honorary International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was represented in the exhibit In Situ: Architecture and Landscape, a survey of architects who use the landscape to expand the definition of architecture at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. He is the sole recipient of the 2014 Medal of Science from The Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Bologna, Italy.
Mr. Ambasz has held an exhibition of his work at the Grimaldi Forum in March of 2010. Skira has published a special updated edition of Emilio Ambasz – A Technological Arcadia by Fulvio Irace and Paolo Portoghesi on the occasion of this show. In the winter of 2011, Emilio Ambasz architectural, industrial, and graphic design work was exhibited in a one-man show in Madrid, Spain, at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Contemporanea Reina Sofía in a major retrospective of his complete works, their first of a living architect.
In 2013 the Italian Government recognized his many contribution to Italian culture by naming him Commendatore d’Italia, Stella d’Oro. In 2016 Ambasz was awarded the ‘Madre Terra Grand Prize.’
Mr. Ambasz has designed the new Museo de las Artes Arquitectonicas y del Diseño, a 5,000 sq mt building to be erected in Madrid, on the Paseo del Prado 30, in front of the Museo Nacional del Prado. Demolition of the existing de-classified building is to start in December 2017, and the new building is scheduled to open at the end of 2020.