I travelled to Orlando in April for the American Institute of Architects Conference on Architecture 2017. ASSA ABLOY parked its Decorative Opening Solutions mobile showroom on the exhibition floor and for two-and-a-half blissful days my colleagues and I connected and conversed among displays of doors and hardware, with friends old and new.

This year, the American Institute of Architects and the Association of the Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) awarded Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, the AIA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architecture Education. It’s a big deal – the highest honor given to educators in architecture – and they couldn’t have chosen a more worthy recipient.

Bob Stern addressed a small group of us one afternoon and recited the speech he’d delivered earlier in the week when he accepted his Topaz Medallion award. The narrative was all Stern: eloquent, like-it-or-not frank, thought-provoking. Stern said theory, as the structure of practice, is crucial. Even as my fingers typed that note, they stuck on the word, “practice.” Practice. The word, itself, implies proficiency through habit and repetition. I practice the piano. Theory is the structure of that practice: scales, chords, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy. Innovation is too valued, Stern said, reminding us that even Matisse and Picasso redrew each other.

He lamented the predominance of digitization, or rather its negative impact on modern architecture’s sense of craft, noting that it’s not uncommon for young job applicants to arrive at the offices of Robert A.M. Stern Architects with portfolios entirely comprised of computer-generated drawings and documents. Computers, Stern said, should be companions to hand processes. “To draw is to analyze,” he said. And, I think, to analyze is to practice – to experience a crucial process, mind-to-hand, undistracted by machine – that leaves indelible impressions on the brain. And isn’t that the essence of learning?

So I’m picking up my pencil more often these days; writing, editing, analyzing, practicing. And it feels good. Thank you, Dean Stern.