A lot of things happened in 2013. Zaha was in the news about every other week. She was copied in China and then accused of designing a giant vagina in Qatar. Rem’s son is producing a documentary about his dad. We lost Prentice Women’s Hospital. We almost lost the American Folk Art Museum. There were a lot of stellar exhibitions and one that took things On the Road. It was the year of high-rise after high-rise, with Rem changing the game yet again by lifting the podium off the ground and sticking to his formal guns, refusing to indulge in curvy shapes.
Things at Architecture for Humanity were shaken up with the departure of co-founders Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr. Resiliency became the new sustainability. China suddenly became defined less for its adventurous architecture and urbanism and more for its darker, smoggier flipside. My hometown, Los Angeles got a few more bike lanes, some big plans for its concrete river, plus a new Bloomberg-esque mayor with attendant sustainability tsar. There were people complaining about architecture and telling us why they left the profession. Kanye got attacked for daring to tell us why he likes architecture, and then architecture loved talking about Kanye for weeks on end until we just wanted architecture to shut up about Kanye. Poor Kanye. There are so many things we could say were key in 2013. It’s been a great year. And there were also a lot of fantastic buildings.
But in terms of issues, what really stands out from 2013 (right up there with “resilience”) is equality - and nothing represented this better than Denise Scott Brown v. Pritzker Prize. In arguing that she has a rightful and equal place alongside husband Robert Venturi, she (along with Harvard GSD’s Women in Design organization) woke a sleeping giant—but not for the first time.
Even if Denise Scott Brown didn’t get included in the Pritzker she co-earned, she nevertheless has made a larger impact by continuing to shift the discourse of the profession. For her, architecture has always been about challenging the system from within. In 1973, just on the heels of Learning from Las Vegas, in what may have been the first formal public voicing of her position on gender equality, she gave a talk to the Alliance of Women in Architecture in New York City. In 1989, elements of that talk emerged in essay form as “Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture”, a touchstone document on an issue that has implications beyond architecture. In it she addresses not just the status of women but the identity of architects in society. Would you expect anything less from someone who grew up under South Africa’s apartheid system? But this is all well-known. It took someone like Denise Scott Brown to come along and draw attention to obvious, unquestioned, and deeply historical divisions that, similar to apartheid, need to be challenged and overturned.
So, 2013 was the year of Denise Scott Brown. If she doesn’t get included in the Pritzker (and it looks like she won’t) she gets the year. She also gets every year of her career and those yet to come. The best thing about this is that so do we.
It’s her year and it’s every other woman’s year. Come to think of it, so was last year and the year before that and next year and the years to follow. Denise Scott Brown has already “won” the Pritzker many times over and will win it every year from here on out - because every time the award is given, people will think not just of the current recipient but of Denise Scott Brown. In fact, Pritzker should just change the name to the Denise Scott Brown Prize and be done with it. Happy New Year Pritzker Prize! Happy New Year Denise Scott Brown!
Guy Horton is a writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to authoring “The Indicator”, he is a frequent contributor to The Architect’s Newspaper, Metropolis Magazine, The Atlantic Cities, and The Huffington Post. He has also written for Architectural Record, GOOD Magazine, and Architect Magazine. You can hear Guy on the radio and podcast as guest host for the show DnA: Design & Architecture on 89.9 FM KCRW out of Los Angeles. Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyHorton.