The Indicator: The Pritzker’s Better Half

The Indicator: The Pritzker’s Better Half

There’s been a lot of buzz going around about the Pritzker jury dissing Denise Scott Brown, wife and co-partner to Robert Venturi. Back in 1991 they awarded the prize to Mr. Venturi, singular…not plural to include his better half. Seems they, a different jury, also dissed Wang Shu’s wife and co-partner, Lu Wenyu way back in 2012 by granting the prestigious prize to Mr. Wang without acknowledging who holds up “the other half of the sky”, as they say in Mandarin.

Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, table from Learning from Las Vegas

First, let’s look at who was on the committee back when Mr. and Mrs. Duck and Decorated Shed should have been co-winners.  J. Carter Brown (1934-2002), who chaired the jury and reigned as director at the U.S. National Gallery of Art from 1969 to 1992; Giovanni Agnelli (1921-2003), head of Fiat; critic Ada Louise Huxtable (1921-2013); Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta (1931-2011); Toshio Nakamura, former Editor-in-Chief at A+U; 1982 Pritzker Laureate Kevin Roche (b. 1922); Lord Rothschild (b. 1936), investment banker; Bill Lacy (b. 1933), Executive Director for the Pritzker Architecture Prize from 1988 to 2005. OK. So Ada is there. But she is the sole female on a male-dominated gang of jurors that included a lord, no less.

Should we bother looking at the 2012 jury? They probably have one woman on it. Now, I am not anti-male. I am a man, and like other men I, too, have feelings and would not want to be accused of sexism. But…wouldn’t it be safe to say there are issues of sexism in architecture? Let’s ask the women. Women? Would you say architecture has a problem with sexism that is deeply entrenched within the culture and that this goes all the way back through studio culture in architecture school? Well, there are two women laureates, Zaha and Kazuyo Sejima, so some progress is being made. Maybe someday women will also have the vote and earn equal pay for equal work. Imagine that!

Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, plate from Learning from Las Vegas

Denise Scott Brown is not pounding her fists and demanding a separate prize, she just wants an inclusion ceremony…and I imagine that would include an open bar and dinner. At minimum she deserves to be wined and dined and celebrated for her achievements as co-partner of the firm Venturi Scott Brown. She even has TWO of her names in the firm name to Robert Venturi’s one! She’s been a firm co-partner for 22 years but has worked alongside Mr. Venturi for 30 years. Her name is on the majority of the projects…and the company stationery and credit cards.

According to a spokesperson for the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Mr. Thomas Pritzker himself has, “…taken it under advisement.” What is there to take under advisement? He should immediately advise himself that this exclusion needs to be corrected immediately. After all, Mrs. Learning from Las Vegas has been extremely patient. I have already seen something to the effect that the Prize organization is shifting blame to the jury members. Well, 1991 jury, what do you guys have to say for yourselves? Are you taking it under advisement? Of course, most of you are dead (note dates above) so there’s the excuse. Fine. But a few of you are still around.

Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Sainsbury Wing, Site Plan of National Gallery Extension, London, England, 1991

In fact, Mr. Pritzker, maybe you should be the one to cook dinner for her. The Prize organization should issue a formal apology, update the website and throw a huge party. We, the architectural journalists, writers, and bull-shitters of the world, should then blast this news out until people are sick of reading about it. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: DENISE SCOTT BROWN WINS PRITZKER…FINALLY.

Sorry, Lu Wenyu. You have to wait in line. The Pritzker can only deal with one case of blatant sexism at a time. But be patient. My guess is that your prize will someday arrive, perhaps by discrete overnight mail.

Venturi Scott Brown, Vanna Venturi House, Early Schemes, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1962

If the Prize cannot deal with this debacle with speed and directness, then it stands to reason that its relevance has slipped. It’s no longer the only prize in town. We architects have lots of ways of giving ourselves awards and accolades for telling the general population how great we think we are. It’s time for a Pritzker re-boot if it wants to maintain its legitimacy as the prize of prizes. This means that its internal culture has to update itself to reflect the broader notions of equality that better our society and advance our culture, architectural culture included.

Or, maybe someone just forgot to put her name on the card. 

About this author
Cite: Guy Horton. "The Indicator: The Pritzker’s Better Half" 05 Apr 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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