2023 Richard Guy Wilson Prize for Excellence in the Study of Buildings, Landscapes and Places

Ethan Starr Photo by Tom Daly
Ethan Starr (MArH '23) is the winner of the 2023 Richard Guy Wilson Prize for his masters thesis on the cultural and environmental history of quarrying and excavation in the shaping of Kansas City.

Named in honor of beloved Professor emeritus Richard Guy Wilson, the RGW Prize recognizes the UVA student who produces the best scholarly or creative work engaging a historic building, place, or landscape. Each year, prize winner is selected by a small committee of University faculty selected by the Chair of the Department of Architectural History, and receives a cash prize of $5000.

After an extended hiatus, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the prize committee was pleased to receive a robust array of submissions from students at all levels, from undergraduate to doctoral, and from diverse programs, including those in the Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy, the School of Architecture, and across the College of Arts & Sciences. Submissions took a wide range of forms, including essays, research papers, digital humanities projects, poetry, and design proposals.

For his submission, “Building the Excavated City: Material Excavation and the Making of Kansas City, Missouri,” the committee selected Ethan Starr as the 2023 RGW Prize winner. Starr's Master of Architectural History thesis provides a rich cultural and environmental history of how Kansas City was shaped in profound ways by the extraction, distribution, and re-assembly of quarried stone. This ambitious project, based on wide-ranging original research, examines how a persistent culture of excavation shaped the city, from the leveling of once prominent bluffs to early establishment of quarries, which not only provided building materials, but helped to ensure that excavation would become a means of urban problem-solving and material fodder for forging shared civic identity through the pervasive use of limestone and the recreation of abandoned quarries as urban parks. 

Ethan Starr images from Masters Thesis Kansas City history
Images from Ethan Starr's MArH Thesis. Top (L to R): Postcard, “How Kansas City, Mo. Looked in 1855.” Collection of E. Starr. Postcard of the shelter house at Holmes Park, 1906. Courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library. Bottom: Vine Street Workhouse, 2023. Photo taken by E.Starr.


The prize jury commented of his work, "The jury was uniformly impressed by the depth of research that informed Ethan Starr’s thesis and by the unique perspective he brought to our understanding of Kansas City and its historical development. In the spirit of the Richard Guy Wilson Prize, the thesis raises timely questions about how we understand place, insisting on the importance of process, materials, and the continuing legacies of histories of extraction."

Starr, who graduated in May 2023, worked with faculty advisor Erin Putalik, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, on his thesis. He is currently an architectural historian for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 

The RGW Prize jury also awarded Honorable Mention to the following entries:

Joyce Fong, Master of Landscape Architecture, anticipated 2024
“Grounding Communing: Re-envisioning a tangible future of communities in Richmond”
A design proposal mapping historic patterns of environmental injustice in Richmond, Virginia & proposing new public commons, defined in part through an expanded tree canopy
Faculty advisor: Emily Wettstein, Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture

Makshya L. Tolbert, MFA Creative Writing, anticipated 2024
“Shade Is a Place”
Poems that are, in the author’s words, part of “a creative, scholarly, and social practice in curating relief and putting more tree shade on the ground across Charlottesville, Virginia"
Faculty advisor: Brian Teare, Associate Professor, English

2023 Richard Guy Wilson Prize Jury
Ari Blatt, Professor & Chair, Department of French
Michael Lee, Reuben M. Rainey Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture
Katya Makarova, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology

Learn more about the RGW Prize, which is now open for submissions (due May 24, 2024) by clicking on the button below.

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