Robert Venturi and Rem Koolhaas Side with Denise Scott Brown on Pritzker Debate

Denise Scott Brown outside Las Vegas in 1966; photograph from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown © Frank Hanswijk

Robert Venturi has joined nearly 4,000 advocates in the call to retrospectively acknowledge Denise Scott Brown as a joint laureate, stating: “Denise Scott Brown is my inspiring and equal partner.”

His support was then quickly followed by Rem Koolhaas, who stated: “I totally support this action. The fact that one of the most creative and productive partnerships we have ever seen in architecture was separated rather than celebrated by a prize has been an embarrassing injustice which it would be great to undo.”

New updates after the break…

Robert Venturi outside Las Vegas in 1966; photograph from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown © Frank Hanswijk

Since Brown’s call on Pritzker to “salute the notion of joint creativity”, thousands of supporters, including architects Zaha Hadid, Farshid Moussavi and Hani Rashid, have passionately joined her cause. However, as in all debates, there is more than one side to the argument.

In an 1991 NYTimes “note to the editor” titled Robert Venturi; No Architect Is an Island, a reader calls for Pritzker to re-evaluate their selection criteria, stating: “The Pritzker committee and Mr. Goldberger both mention Denise Scott Brown in passing, but the effect of this name-dropping is more chilling than reassuring. Her work is presented as a footnote to Mr. Venturi’s and, in the process, a 30-year collaboration is eradicated. By promoting this type of omission, the Pritzker committee and The Times architecture critic perpetuate a long-standing tradition: the romantic myth of the hero-architect.”

In response, replied: “I find it absurd to suggest that, by virtue of its decision to award the Pritzker Prize to Venturi alone, the Pritzker jury has reduced Venturi’s long and fruitful collaboration with Denise Scott Brown to a mere “footnote.” Scott Brown is both the presiding partner and the guiding theorist for planning and urban-design work at the office of Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, and her essential role in 20th-century planning as both practitioner and thinker has been well documented in my writings and elsewhere.

“But if few have contributed as much as she has in this area, it does not follow from this that all of the work of Robert Venturi is equally the product of collaboration. As I took it, the Pritzker Prize was awarded largely for Venturi’s architectural designs, which are rather more his own, and in recognition of the extraordinary influence of the ideas set out in his very first book, “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture,” of which he was the sole author. To honor Robert Venturi need hardly be taken as a slight to Denise Scott Brown.”

Although an overwhelming amount of support seems to be in Brown’s favor, we are curious to know where our readers stand. Please share you thoughts in the comment section below.

Cite: Rosenfield, Karissa. "Robert Venturi and Rem Koolhaas Side with Denise Scott Brown on Pritzker Debate" 04 Apr 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • Laszlo Kovacs

    I think the only way to truly make up for it is to award the pritzker to Scott Brown next year as a sole winner. I think it’s great that Scott Brown is making a fuss about this. The Pritzker Prize is on the verge of becoming completely irrelevant just because it continuously awards starchitects who have everything anyways without the award. Then they pretend to be a Nobel of architecture. The Nobel awards famous stars, but it also awards people that would be unknown if not for the nobel prize. I think with the selection of Souto de moura and wang shu things are getting better; but with toyo ito winning this year we’re back to the same irrelevant nonsense. If Norman Foster and Frank Gehry’s work represent “significant contributions to humanity” than architecture has little to do with humanity and more to do with style and fame.

    • Nicole

      Mr. Laszlo Kovacs:

      I don’t see how being a so-called starchitect prohibits someone from winning the Pritzker. Toyo Ito deserves the prize this year not because he is well-known but because of his great ideas and built work. If the prize were awarded for reasons of tokenism or to promote some feminist or political agenda, then I think that would by far be the greater disservice to architecture. They have awarded Souto de Moura and Wang already, why not Ito? The Nobel Prize after all was awarded to Vargas Llosa after Le Clezio and Muller. Let’s not denigrate the achievements of Ito (or Gehry or Foster) just to promote Scott Brown. They, Ito and Scott Brown, both deserve it.

      Besides, Ito isn’t even a starchitect on the same level as Hadid, Holl, Foster, or Gehry. He doesn’t even have any built work in the US or China! If he is a starchitect, then he is extremely underrated. Not enough “big” projects.

      • Laszlo Kovacs

        You have a point and I think I should clarify. I do agree that Ito is deserving of a prize but I don’t think he’s deserving of a prize that purports to award architects who have made “significant contributions to humanity”. Ito is, however, a starchitect and has been very famous for many years. Ando had no built work in the USA either before he won the Pritzker in 95, that has nothing to do with his international notoriety. You don’t have to build “big” projects to be a starchitect.

        I think Ito’s and many other winners’ work is great but the award itself is a farce and claims to be what it is not. It is a lifetime achievement award, not an award that celebrates architectural humanity.

        The Nobel Prize does award famous people and does make outrageous choices (Obama winning the peace prize for example), but it also digs much deeper than the Pritzker does and really does its research in choosing some very deserving candidates of a prize that means something (although by no means am I saying the Nobel is perfect or even close to it). The Pritzker chooses one architect from the elite list of architects every year. The fact that the Nobel Prize doesn’t have a category in architecture is quite telling in itself. Maybe architecture has little or nothing to do with humanity, although that is not what I like to believe. Famous architecture has little or nothing to do with humanity; that is much closer to the truth about architecture and humanity.

        Good for Scott Brown though. Why not make a fuss? This prize is all a farce anyway.

      • Nicole

        You don’t seem to be all that knowledgeable about Ito’s work if you don’t think his architecture or ideas have made “significant contributions to humanity”, culminating recently in his Home-For-All project.

        And for all your worship of the Nobel, I actually think the Peace Prize is quickly becoming the biggest farce of all. Al Gore, Barack Obama, the European Union? I do not contest the science or economics prizes (although the latter is unfortunately skewed towards American economists), but if you believe that the Nobel committees are not selecting from a list of elite candidates, then you really should read more about literature, science, politics, and economics.

        So the Prizker Prize has become a lifetime achievement award. So are the Nobel Prizes. I’ve always seen it that way.

      • Nicole

        And great architecture can certainly have a significant contribution to humanity in the same way that great art and literature can.

      • Nicole

        And great architecture, famous or not, can certainly make a significant contribution to humanity in the same way that great art and literature can.

      • Laszlo Kovacs

        I already stated that the Nobel is far from perfect. Yet they still managed to award a woman as far back as 1905. The Pritzker couldn’t award a prize to a deserving woman even in 1991.

        There are two possible future paths that the Pritzker prize can take from here on out: the first would be to continue to further expose architects that already have incredible international exposure. (in which case congrats to 2014 laureate Steven Holl!)

        Or they can opt to maintain some relevance and award talented architects from all over the world that have not received enough or any exposure for brilliant work.

        Architecture is completely different from art and literature. It is the constructed environment we inhabit everyday. It can be profound and touch us in ways that you may deem similar to art or literature; but architecture has a much larger responsibility than either of those other disciplines. It’s quite a shame to see what little ambition you have for the most coveted prize in architecture. I would think that everyone would want the prize to mean something more than a lifetime achievement award for famous Caucasian and Asian (Japanese) architects living and working in Europe, Japan, and the Americas (mostly north america).

  • Jonathan Antico

    Well, we should first read the jury report of 1991 to see on which grounds the prize was awarded only to Robert Venturi. As far as I know Denise Scott Brown was a partner since 1969, so why neglecting her?
    And what about Rauch?

  • chris

    If they were truly equal partners in the work that the jury was awarding then the fact that she is not included is a travesty, both because it is sexist and it undermines the value of collaboration.

    That being said if the award was given primarily for the Venturi House and Complexity and Contradiction, which are both extremely influential works produced by him prior to their partnership, then I agree with Goldberger, “To honor Robert Venturi need hardly be taken as a slight to Denise Scott Brown.”

  • Ken Grix

    Venturi’s first book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, was, and still is, hugely influential and inspiring and worthy of the highest prize. That book was by Venturi alone.

  • Rem Koolhaas

    I post this as a question, not to start an argument, but has anyone on the petition website verified the authenticity of this cast of A-list architects now supporting this cause?

    I would be thrilled if Koolhaas, Hadid, etc. were genuinely behind this, because I wholeheartedly am. But as I just demonstrated with my own user name, it’s pretty darn easy to forge a petition signature. Has anyone looked into this?

    • Arielle

      Organizers of the petition have personally emailed with these “A-listers” and can verify that they are authentic. also does a check on email accounts to ensure authenticity of public figures.

    • fry

      why should architecture take such matter into account? it must precede history and nature. Prizes in architecture should be given to people who are not seeking recognition, but whose humble spirit and genuine innocence can portray the purity of state of mind into practice.

  • Steven Pollock

    A statement has been given by the Pritzker committee indicating the award is reference to a specific body of work. If this body of work is recognized by the readers and architecture community as influential than the award seems to be valid !.

    If the mentioned Denise Scott Brown was involved with this particular body of work than this needs to be stated. Unless this can be proved there is nothing wrong here ?!…

    The awards industry is full of disappointment and constantly scrutinized by the many that never get on this list. I highly doubt you will see the Pritzker committee reverse the decision after this statement. It would indicate a dire misrepresentation and blatant discrimination of the valid partner.

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    Has anyone asked why Venturi was so willing to accept the prize minus Denise? Why did he not put up a big fuss and said that the prize should be shared and he wouldn’t accept it solely? Either he’s a complete jerk or there is something else here that has not been explained……………..

    • Laszlo Kovacs

      I agree. Something is odd about her coming out 20 years later and saying this. I’m sure that Venturi and Scott Brown discussed it in 1991 and decided to accept the award. No famous architect would turn down the award; it helps business too much. They most likely decided that while Scott Brown deserved it too, they would never get this sort of chance at the “nobel” of architecture again. Now of course Scott Brown realizes that history has partially ignored her role and she wants recognition too.

      On that note though, does anyone know of an architect who has ever turned down the Pritzker prize?

      • BILL LIM

        It’s all too weird that Venturi has now joined the petition. Why did he not demand recognition for Denise all the way back in 1991? That would have been the high road to take. Why now? Too much heat now? If they had discussed and agreed to go solo, then why bring it up now? Both of them have more to clarify than the Pritzker jury. The jury at least could say that they based the award on the mother’s house and Complexity & Contradictions and Denise’s being sidelined can possibly be explained away. Who can Denise blame but Venturi himself? He didn’t speak up for her then. Why now?

  • V

    In response to the NYTimes article by Paul Goldberger from 1991, it would be worth noting that he has signed the petition, tweeting that @paulgoldberger “call to give DeniseScottBrown Pritzker recognition “unusual situation” but Pritzker created it w prize to Venturi only.” This is a new era.

  • Nicole

    Why has my response to Laszlo Kovacs not been published yet?

    • Laszlo Kovacs

      What was your response? Try posting again

    • Karissa Rosenfield

      Sorry, Nicole! I am not sure why your comment didn’t go through, but it should be up now.

  • Jeniphler

    From Scott-Brown’s essay they collaborated since 1960 on ideas and 1969 on projects, and were married in 1967. It has been mentioned there were strong negative reactions back then and so relevant concern that to make a fuss would damage the firm. So in recasting the past we affirm our future.

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