The Pritzker Prize had idealistic beginnings: recognising achievement within architecture, a profession that had long lost its status in public opinion. Pritzker ‘seamed’ this fragmentation, celebrated the architect and broadcast this stellar contribution to society, as a creative, a singular author whose uniqueness set him/her apart from a field of practitioners.
The Prize has since assumed a role of gatekeeper to the ‘starchitect’ it once helped define. While it is inspiring that architecture as a profession has reaffirmed its status and cultural significance, The Pritzker places itself on an archi-centric proscenium, running the risk of being consumed by a synthetic reality within the profession. If Pritzker and other similar models of recognition are to evolve, they must illuminate widespread transformations in practice and emphasise the changing of the guard within the profession.
Firstly, Denise Scott Brown should be recognised retrospectively. Opinion does not change facts.
Read more about the (d)evolution of the Pritzker Prize, after the break…
Denise Scott Brown, in a recent interview, re-ignited the fury from the early 90′s, when the Pritzker jury unjustly excluded her in her husband and architectural partner Robert Venturi’s Pritzker in 1991. Ironically, Scott Brown comprises two-thirds of the practice title ‘Venturi Scott Brown and Associates’, the legendary practice partnership which has stamped its mark on contemporary architectural thought. Scott Brown has been integral to the practice’s seminal theory and landmark architectural projects.
The interview for the Architect’s Journal coincided with Toyo Ito’s 2013 Pritzker. It also overlaps with a time and period where architectural discourse is addressing the gender bias in the profession as a whole. The weeks followed with a petition signed by over four thousand, demanding Scott Brown be recognised as an equal partner. Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas, Pritzker laureates themselves, have been quick to support this petition.
The logical extension of this debate is an active petition to ensure Patrik Schumacher be included in the annals of architectural history. Schumacher’s theoretical and processual contribution is inseparable from the practice that is Zaha Hadid Architects.
The petition demands a renewed consciousness and calls on us to unshackle the profession from its hierarchical armatures and, as Scott Brown emphasised, to advocate for creative partnerships. Keep in mind, this position is diametrically opposed to the values initiated with the Philip Johnson mould of the architect at Pritzker’s inception.
Stretching this paradigm- should OMA receive credit as being a vessel and think tank for Rem’s oeuvre? ‘Koolhaas’ is now a jargonistic catchword that describes a particular social and architectural evaluation. Does describing an OMA project as Rem’s personal project construct a more impressive scenario? Are architects still drawn to cheer Koolhaas as the lone ranging dark knight of architecture?
Atelier practices are often a front for self-aggrandising, as if architecture is a creation willed into existence without project staff. If the collective is still viewed as an agency that tarnishes individual contribution, that could explain the endeavour to make combined-efforts out to be an accessorising presence in the profession, at least in terms of recognition. This discloses a broader and more pertinent debate about ‘authorship’. Here the term is used quite literally, suggesting invention or ownership of ideas, and hence propositioning a professional sensitivity toward acknowledgement
In 2001, the year following Koolhaas’s Pritzker, Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron shared the Pritzker, and in 2010 Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of the Japanese practice SANAA were jointly awarded the Prize. Maybe things are changing.
Secondly, and rather honestly, who Cares?
No matter which epoch you assess it in, recognition ostensibly adheres to a traditional sensibility. It is a half truth, well separated from worthiness. Architecture was once trapped in the skin of the visionary (the individual towering above the inferno of limitation, unfettered by convention and constraints, embodied by the cultural perception of a Howard Roark); it is progressively shedding this semblance. No single distinct definition accurately illustrates architecture’s breadth or intent.
Architecture is, in a contemporary sense, a collaborative platform, an interactive practice, a knowledge mesh. It operates across disciplinary categories, dealing with scales, complexity and territories that no individual should receive exclusive acclamation for. In this light, one has to re-evaluate our affair with conferrals (that are obtrusively self-organising) and decoration for aesthetic valour. To objectify the singular is to glamorise.
Scott Brown adds “there are other ways of being an architect that are very creative and lets salute some of those, and the notion of joint creativity.”
It is reasonable to conclude that rather than having institutions swing to accommodate variable definitions of practice, architecture desperately requires new forms of recognition, that celebrate the assemblage and the expansive pool from which the profession draws.
Is the profession prepared for an ensuing shakedown, one that drives at the very kernel of normalcy?
If you buy into the assertion of the star, then Pritzker’s characterisation of the hegemonic titular head accompanied by the autocratic production of architecture is absolute. If you no longer see the award as a relevant determinant in the profession, then it should fail to matter either way. In 2006, Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee addressed its failure to award Gandhi a Nobel Prize, declaring “Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace Prize. Whether (the) Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question”. I believe it holds true for Denise Scott Brown.
Ian Nazareth is a practising architect, urbanist and researcher oscillating between Melbourne and Mumbai. His interests include post-industrial landscapes, urban architecture, networked ecologies, speculative futures and the expanded field. Ian is also a consulting researcher at RMIT’s School of Architecture and Design in Melbourne. Follow him @wormholewizard