Mahlon “Sandy” Apgar provided an endowment to the ULI Foundation to create the ULI Apgar Thought Leader Award.(Courtesy of Mahlon Apgar)

In 2020, Mahlon “Sandy” Apgar, a ULI trustee and Julia Morgan Society member, provided an endowment to the ULI Foundation to create the ULI Apgar Thought Leader Award. The award program encourages the sharing of original research and innovative ideas related to the real estate industry. Every two years, a committee chooses a winning article published in Urban Land magazine and written by a thought leader, awarding a $1,500 honorarium and free registration for the Institute’s Fall or Spring Meeting.

But the roots of the award go back decades and reflect a long dedication to sharing knowledge. Apgar notes that he and his wife, Anne, established their first awards program in 1982 with the Apgar Award for Innovation in Teaching award at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

“The objective was to recognize and reward teachers early in their careers, before they receive recognition,” Apgar says.

That led the couple to create other awards, including the Apgar Thought Leader Award for ULI, highlighting the written word as its own essential form of knowledge creation and dissemination. The award continues an annual program that Apgar established during the 1990s to reward writers for Urban Land.

Apgar himself has written numerous articles on topics such as real estate development, public/private partnerships, and urban management for Urban Land, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review.

“I see writing as a way of distilling complex topics across the broad spectrum of real estate in ways that are easily communicable and more meaningful than they would be if they were simply indexed in an academic journal,” he says. “That’s been a career-long mission for me.”

For the biennial award, a three-member committee chooses the winning piece from articles published during the previous two years. The committee evaluates the articles for analytical clarity, relevance to current land use issues, and overall contribution to development literature.

For 2021–2022, the committee consisted of Chuck Schilke, senior lecturer at the Edward St. John Real Estate Program, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School; Faron Hill, president of Peregrine Oak and ULI Foundation chair; and Sibley Fleming, vice president and editor in chief, Urban Land. To encourage young practitioners and emerging experts, preference is given to authors who are not professional writers or prominent authorities in their fields.

The 2020–2021 winner, Hans Papke, received the award for his article titled “Using Biomimicry to Design Smart Buildings,” published in the Summer 2022 issue of Urban Land. A senior associate project architect at DLR Group, Papke described how biomimicry can enhance building performance, optimize energy efficiency, and incorporate aspects of the natural world. He chronicled the design of the Pinal County Attorney’s Office in Florence, Arizona, to illustrate how emulating the natural flora of the adjacent desert, particularly the saguaro cactus, could reduce solar heat gain and save energy.

Papke has long been dedicated to educating clients about green design strategies and integrating sustainable principles so deeply into the design that they endure throughout the value engineering process.

“I want to make sure we’re creating great environments, and connecting to nature is one of the best ways to develop and design buildings,” he says. “That’s what I hope to spread, and I hope people who read the article in Urban Land—especially developers and landowners—understand that designing with biomimicry doesn’t mean a building is going to be more expensive.”

“Hans’s piece conveys an exceptionally valuable set of ideas with remarkable depth and clarity,” Schilke says. “Biomimicry tends to be outside the domain of most real estate professionals. But this article makes a compelling case for including it in our core toolbox. We hope Hans’s piece provides a roadmap for new developments in similar environments.”

“Hans Papke’s article rose to the top in a pool of highly competitive, strong pieces,” Fleming says. “It was perfect for the award because it was a fresh approach to buildings and communities. This award inspires industry innovators to crystallize their ideas, to develop their ideas in written form, and to seek publication, which disseminates these ideas across a global audience of high-level thought leaders and decision-makers.

“The true value of this award is in inspiring innovators to put pen to paper and share,” she adds. “It draws attention to a unique aspect of Urban Land, which is not only to publish industry research and trends, but also to provide a platform for industry voices and the sharing of best practices.”

The next award will be granted by the end of 2024.

RON NYREN is a freelance architecture, urban planning, and real estate writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.

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