Pritzker Responds To Denise Scott Brown Controversy

© Frank Hanswijk

An intense gender debate has been making headlines after Denise Scott Brown called for Pritzker to “salute the notion of joint creativity” and retrospectively acknowledge her role in ’s 1991 Pritzker Prize during an AJ luncheon in late March. Since, nearly 2,000 advocates have passionately rallied in Brown’s support by signing an online petition created by Harvard’s GSD Women in Design Group. Among the signatures include architects Zaha Hadid, Farshid Moussavi and Hani Rashid, along with MoMA senior curator of architecture and design Paola Antonelli, architecture photographer Iwan Baan, Rice School of Architecture dean Sarah Whiting, and Berkeley College of Environmental Design dean Jennifer Wolch. 

Responding to the outrage, Martha Thorne, executive director of Pritzker Prize, promised to “refer this important matter to the current jury at their next meeting”, respectfully pointing out that this presents an “unusual situation” considering each Laureate is chosen annually by a panel of independent jurors who change over the years.

More on the controversy after the break…

At the time of Venturi’s selection, the jury consisted of J. Carter Brown (Chairman), Giovanni Agnelli, Ada Louise Huxtable, Ricardo Legorreta, Toshio Nakamura, Kevin Roche, Lord Rothschild, and Bill Lacy (Secretary to the Jury).

The current jury, whom just awarded Japanese architect Toyo Ito with the 2013 Pritzker Prize, includes Lord Palumbo (Chairman), Alejandro Aravena, Stephen Breyer, Yung Ho Chang, Glenn Murcutt, Juhani Pallasmaa, and Martha Thorne (Executive Director).

Although Denise Scott Brown’s influence on the postmodern power couple’s success is undeniable, an interesting counterargument suggests that the basis of Venturi winning the Pritzker was the Vanna Venturi House (1964) and the Guild House (1964) – both completed before Denise joined the firm in 1969. “These two projects, together with Complexity and Contradiction (1966), changed the course of architecture,” stated one ArchDaily reader.

These two projects aside, however, at the time of the award, Brown had been co-partner at Venturi Scott Brown and Associates for over 22 years and, alongside Venturi, had played a critical role in the evolution of architectural theory and design for over 30 years. In addition, she co-authored the seminal Learning from Las Vegas with Venturi and Steven Izenour in 1972.

In an interview with ArchDaily in 2011, Brown spoke of her frustration at the way her role is perceived: “It’s hard for both of us – but particularly for me because I get obliterated,” she said. “Visitors to our office have tunnel vision toward Bob. I am seen as his assistant, not a professional in my own right, and certainly not a designer. Why that’s anathema would take a book to define.”

For live updates, follow the Pritzker for Brown Facebook Page.

References: The Pritzker Architecture Prize, Architect’s Journal, Dezeen, Harvard GSD Women in Design

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "Pritzker Responds To Denise Scott Brown Controversy" 01 Apr 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
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  • Rodrigo Fernandes

    What’s Mr. Venturi opinion on this matter? Did he acknowledge her back then?

  • Eric in Colorado

    Let’s face it folks, no Architect works in a vacuum. All of the Laureates have likely had design partners/associates who’ve contributed substantially to the work that garnered the awards. Are we now to go back and give retroactive acknowledgement to all of the people who have assisted Pritzker winners over the years?

    • fer

      you are not getting the point. She is not one of those “people who have assisted Pritzker winners over the years”. The Venturi-Scott Brown team could be comparable in terms of working credits to the teams conformed by Sejima-Nishizawa or deMeuron-Herzog. It’s as if Ryue Nishizawa wasn’t given his proper credit. Anyway… the Pritzker is just a prize given by mortals (although they are great architects in this case)

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  • Stuart Cohen FAIA

    Juries seem to have a hard time acknowledging that design can be done collaboratively. I believe that the AIA in awarding fellowship does not acknowledge collaborative design partnerships particularly when one partner is better known. While I don’t think that either the AIA or the Pitzker juries are sexist, I do think that the cult of Howard Rourke and the genius architect (singular) are still with us.

  • Elvis Presley

    They’re both overrated…

  • Zaha Hadid

    At that time the award was given to a person, not to a firm. Today things are different and the award can be shared by two or more people. Still, giving any award to any individual, in the realm of architecture, is just absurd. It is a collaborative effort and you need a team of professionals to achieve anything. Hence, the Pritzker price should be given to firms, offices as a whole, e.g. it should have been given to Renzo Piano Building Workshop and not to Renzo Piano as a person.
    We need to make clear that Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown would have not done much without a team of loyal colleagues and students. I would be more inclined in recognizing the shadow people who make other people great, than just Denise Scott Brown.
    Having said that, the award was erroneously attributed only to Bob Venturi and he should have not accepted it at that time. Denise Scott Brown should have been mad at her husband as well as the Jury.
    Today, we have to accept that sexist statement and learn from it. Instead of trying to erase the ugly past, we should concentrate in not repeating the same mistakes in the future.