For Inaugural Weitzman Award Winners, the Prize Opened Doors
The first two Weitzman Award recipients, Alexandra Adamski (MArch‘19) and Amie Patel (MCP’20), reflect on the impact of the award on their early careers.
From the time she was in high school, Alexandra Adamski (MArch‘19) knew she wanted to be an architect. It was “the culmination of everything I loved: design, drawing, geometry, and math,” she says. But she didn’t know what kind of architect she wanted to be until toward the end of her master’s degree in Architecture at the Weitzman School.
“I don’t think I had a real clear sense of what type of work I wanted to do, and I think my three years at Penn helped mold that a lot,” she says. “[By graduation], I knew I was really interested in cultural work. I wanted to work in firms that focused on institutions and museums.”
Today, Adamski is a designer at Studio Joseph, a New York firm founded by architect Wendy Evans Joseph (C’77). She’s working on a range of projects — exhibitions for the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in Washington, D.C., along with gallery projects at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Mass., and the Russell & Mary Wright Design Gallery in Garrison, New York — as she pursues her architecture license. One thing that helped smooth the transition from graduate school into a promising professional career was winning the inaugural Kanter Tritsch Prize in Energy and Architectural Innovation in 2018, an annual $50,000 award for a second-year Master of Architecture student. For Adamski, the first person in her family to go to college, the award was a vote of confidence, and a chance to focus on what she wanted to achieve as an architect.
“It was some outside validation that the work I was doing was good, and that I could make that work speak through a portfolio,” Adamski says. “It definitely relieved some financial anxiety related to my student loan. That was the biggest and most immediate effect, and it helped open the door to more experimental firms that I could work at. I had more freedom to pursue my interests.”
The Kanter Tritsch Prize, first awarded in 2018, was established with a $1.25 million gift from Lori Kanter Tritsch (MArch’85), a Weitzman School advisory board member, and her partner, William P. Lauder (W’83), a Penn trustee. The following year, William Witte (C’73, MCP’75) and his wife, Keiko Sakamoto, Esq., gave $1.25 million to establish the Witte-Sakamoto Family Prize in City and Regional Planning. That prize, which was first awarded in 2019, provides $50,000 for a student entering their final year of the master's program in the Department of City and Regional Planning.
The inaugural winner of that prize was Amie Patel (MCP’20), who worked in landscape architecture in her native San Diego prior to starting a master’s in city planning at the Weitzman School. Patel says her move from landscape architecture to planning was motivated by a desire to think more broadly, and more collaboratively with communities.
“I found planning to be a more holistic look at cities and how we live,” she says. “Data can only tell us so much but people who are actually experiencing [neighborhoods] can put things into perspective. Having conversations with people, you can start to formulate what their struggles are, and what would benefit them.”
Patel now works as a planner and designer at WRT in Philadelphia, a firm where Ian McHarg, the long-time chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture, was once a partner. There, she’s working with community members on neighborhood plans for parts of Cleveland and an area of Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was known as Black Wall Street before race riots in 1921. It’s the kind of work she envisioned doing prior to starting her master’s program. And she says the Witte-Sakamoto prize helped her find her way to it.
“It relaxed me a little bit in terms of thinking about what my future would be; I was able to take a step back and focus, in my last year of graduate school, on thinking about my priorities,” she says. “I was able to consider all of the benefits of where I wanted to be and what sort of space I wanted to be working in.”
In addition to the endowed prizes, the annual Weitzman School Awards event has raised more than $550,000 over the last three years to support student scholarships. This year’s awards will be held on Thursday, November 18 at 5:30pm, at the Kleinman Energy Forum located in Fisher Fine Arts Library. To register for the event, click here.