News
06.11.2013
Editorial> Architecture, The Collaborative Art
In light of Denise Scott Brown's Pritzker snub, William Menking charges that it's time to change the focus of architecture's highest honor.
Courtesy Hyatt Foundation

There has been so much written in the past several months about whether Denise Scott Brown should be acknowledged for her contribution to Robert Venturi’s work and his 1991 Pritzker Prize that there is very little left to say on the matter—unless you are a member of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors of the award, or a juror for the prize. The ball is in the Pritzker court in Chicago. Most of the living Pritzker Prize winners or Laureates, including Richard Meier, Zaha Hadid, the 2012 winner Wang Shu, Rem Koolhaas, and, of course, Robert Venturi, have signed a petition that she be recognized by the award committee. Scott Brown herself has said she does not expect to become a laureate, but would like to be honored with an “inclusion award” that would not be given in a grand ceremony like the recent celebration of Toyo Ito (the 2013 winner) in Boston. Instead, she proposes something much more modest: that the Pritzker support a conference or a discussion on “creativity.”

The discussion on creativity that Scott Brown calls for might focus on the prize itself and its mission to honor “a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment.” While the Pritzker Prize has undoubtedly done a great service by raising the visibility of architecture in the mind of the public, it is not to much to say that this mission is outdated and in need of a tweaking if not an overhaul. This focus on awarding the prize to a single architect of “talent, vision and commitment” continues to perpetrate the notion of individual, creative genius in the field, rather than recognizing that architecture is in every respect a social art conceived, constructed, and experienced not by a solitary figure, but collaboratively. It fact, the Pritzker was moving in this direction when it honored its first pair of architects, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, in 2001, and Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, in 2010. This is not to say that individual initiative or even brilliance are not important in the field. No one can deny the power of drawings by Aldo Rossi or Zaha Hadid, or the quiet uniqueness of buildings authored by Sverre Fehn. But even Rem Koolhaas has admitted the collaborative nature of his practice just as his book Delirious New York was in part created by Madelon Vriesendorp and other young researchers. Perhaps there is a way the prize might begin recognizing firms rather than the figure with his or her name on the door.

Finally, it is time that the Pritzker Prize rethink its blind determination to only honor architects for their built work rather than recognizing that writing, theoretical manifestos, and teaching are just as integral to the profession. It should be possible for figures or groups as diverse as the late Lewis Mumford, Archigram, Manfredo Tafuri, or even Kenneth Frampton to be honored, since, after all, the Pritzker claims to laud “consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”

William Menking