Chicago Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox Inducted Into American Academy of Arts and Letters

May 24, 2023

‘Citizen architect’ receives lifetime achievement award for enduring commitment to design excellence and urban planning


Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) Commissioner Maurice Cox was inducted today into the American Academy of Arts and Letters for a lifetime of achievements in architecture.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City is an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers and writers. Founded in 1898, its early members include Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Mark Twain and Edith Wharton.

“Maurice is a real humanist in his approach and conviction that architecture can transform communities and that good design should be accessible to everybody, not just the elite few,” said Arkansas architect Marlon Blackwell, an Academy member and American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal recipient. “He’s spent his career advocating for investment and long-term development in cities through creative design and community engagement, especially in underserved neighborhoods.”

“His ambition is to lift all citizens up in a more equitable and just urban environment,” Blackwell said.

In addition to Cox, the Academy inducted 22 new members Wednesday for achievements in their respective fields, including movie director Francis Ford Coppola, actress Frances McDormand, artist Shirin Neshat and author Percival Everett, who joined approximately 280 living members.

“Maurice is a citizen architect,” said Los Angeles architect Lawrence Scarpa, an AIA Gold Medal recipient who has worked with Cox in numerous professional and volunteer capacities for 30 years, including as co-founders of the Affordable Housing Design Leadership Institute. “He ensures good design is for everyone, which effects change on a large scale. The impact is on society as a whole — entire cities — rather than a singular building or project.”

Celebrated for his experience merging architecture, design and politics through multiple public, private and elected positions, Cox has led the City of Chicago’s design and urban revitalization efforts as DPD commissioner since 2019. In this role, he implemented an unprecedented urban revitalization strategy that to date has attracted more than $1.2 billion in private investment commitments to underserved neighborhoods; elevated the design standards of local construction projects through a pro bono committee on design consisting of 24 globally renowned architects; and tripled the City’s planning capacity through a comprehensive reorganization and expansion of DPD.

Cox formerly served as planning director for the City of Detroit; design director for the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington, D.C.; mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia; and professor at multiple universities, including as associate dean of community engagement for Tulane University in New Orleans. He also practiced architecture for 10 years in Florence, Italy, with his architect partner and wife, Giovanna Galfione.

In the 1990s, Cox was an early practitioner of public interest design — a human-centered and participatory design field that emphasizes economic, environmental and social impact — which helped shape his priorities as an urban planner and government official.

“Maurice has had an incredible career as an architect, planner and municipal leader, and his work has impacted millions of lives across this country,” Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said. “I'm proud to have him on my team and look forward to working with him to build a better, stronger, safer Chicago.”

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Cox holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the Cooper Union in New York City and an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Detroit Mercy.

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