Emilio Ambasz is an architect and award-winning industrial designer. From 1969 to 1976 he was Curator of Design at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York. Ambasz was a precursor of 'green' architecture.
Ambasz's trademark style is a combination of buildings and gardens, which he describes as 'green over grey'. He bucked the trends of the 1970s, hiding his buildings under grass or putting them on boats. The Emilio Ambasz Award for Green Architecture is awarded every year by the Architecture Israel Quarterly magazine.
Born in Argentina (13 June 1943, Resistencia, Chaco), Ambasz is also a citizen of Spain by Royal Grant. He studied at Princeton University where 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 (1969–76), where he directed and installed numerous exhibits on architecture and industrial design, among them Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, in 1972; The Architecture of Luis Barragan, in 1974; and The Taxi Project, in 1976.
Ambasz was a two-term President of the Architectural League (1981–85). He taught at Princeton University's School of Architecture, and was visiting professor at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany.
Among his architectural projects are the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan, winner of the 1976 Progressive Architecture Award; a house for a couple in Cordoba, Spain, winner of the 1980 Progressive Architecture Award; and the Conservatory at the San Antonio Botanical Center in Texas, winner of the 1985 Progressive Architecture Award, the 1988 National Glass Association Award for Excellence in Commercial Design, and the 1990 Quaternario Award.
He also won the First Prize and Gold Medal in the 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.
The headquarters 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. He won the First Prize in the 1986 competition for the Urban Plan for the Eschenheimer Tower in Frankfurt, Germany. His Banque Bruxelles Lambert in Lausanne, Switzerland, received the 1983 Annual Interiors Award.
Ambasz represented the United States at the 1976 Venice Biennale.
Since 1980 Ambasz has been the Chief Design Consultant for the Cummins Engine Co. He holds a number of industrial and mechanical design patents, and his Vertebrax chair is included in the Design Collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The MOMA has also included in its Design Collection his 1967 3-D Poster Geigy Graphics and his Flashlight.
Ambasz is the author of several books on architecture and design, among them Natural Architecture, Artificial Design, first published by Electa in 2001 and re-published four times since in expanded versions. "I detest writing theories. I prefer writing fables," he said in 2017. Domus magazine has published some of those fables, including this one:
"Italy has remained a federation of city-states. There are museum-cities and factory-cities. There is a city whose streets are made of water, and another where all streets are hollowed walls. There is one city where all its inhabitants work on the manufacture of equipment for amusement parks; a second where everybody makes shoes; and a third where all its dwellers build baroque furniture. There are many cities where they still make a living by baking bread and bottling wine, and one where they continue to package faith and transact with guilt. Naturally, there is also one city inhabited solely by architects and designers. This city is laid out on a grid, its blocks are square, and each is totally occupied by a cubic building. Its wails are blind, without windows or doors.
The inhabitants of this city pride themselves on being radically different from each other. Visitors to the city claim, however, that all inhabitants have one common trait; they are all unhappy with the city they inherited and moreover, concur that it is possible to divide the citizens into several distinct groups. The members of one of the groups live inside the building blocks. Conscious of the impossibility of communicating with others, each of them, in the isolation of his own block, builds and demolishes every day, a new physical setting. To these constructions they sometimes give forms which they recover from their private memories; on other occasions, these constructs are intended to represent what they envision communal life may be on the outside.
Another group dwells in the streets. Both as individuals and as members of often conflicting sub-groups, they have one common goal: to destroy the blocks that define the streets. For that purpose they march along chanting invocations, or write on the walls words and symbols which they believe are endowed with the power to bring about their will. There is one group whose members sit on top of the buildings. There they await the emergence of the first blade of grass from the roof that will announce the arrival of the Millennium. As of late, rumors have been circulating that some members of the group dwelling in the streets have climbed up to the buildings’ roof-tops, hoping that from this vantage point they could be able to see whether the legendary people of the countryside have begun their much predicted march against the city, or whether they have opted to build a new city beyond the boundaries of the old one."
In the winter of 2011-12, Ambasz architectural, industrial, and graphic design work was exhibited at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, in a comprehensive major retrospective of his complete works. In the Fall of 2017, Lars Mueller Publisher will issue a much improved version in English (Emerging Nature; working title) of the book issued on the occasion of that exhibition.
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 is the sole recipient of the 2014 Medal of Science from The Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Bologna, Italy, and the first recipient of the Terra Madre Award.