Nishizawa (left) and Sejima.
Takashi Okamoto

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA have been named the 2010 Pritzker Prize Laureates, architecture’s highest honor. Partners for more than 15 years, the pair have designed singularly refined houses, museums, and educational buildings in their native Japan and around the world. Among their best-known works are the O-Museum in Nagano, Japan; the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion in Ohio; the New Museum in New York; and the new Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“They explore like few others the phenomenal properties of continuous space, lightness, transparency, and materiality to create a subtle synthesis. Sejima and Nishizawa’s architecture stands in direct contrast with the bombastic and rhetorical,” the jury said in its citation. “Instead, they seek the essential qualities of architecture that result in a much-appreciated straightforwardness, economy of means, and restraint in their work.”

The Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art (2006).

Courtesy Toledo Museum of Art

In the New Yorker, Paul Goldberger wrote of the New Museum, “the building is original, but doesn’t strain to reinvent the idea of a museum. Sejima and Nishizawa have a way of combining intensity with understatement.” In each of their projects, SANAA seems to start from scratch, investigating new forms and materials, and employing innovative spatial, surface, and programmatic elements.

The New Museum in New York (2007).
 Jeff Goldberg/Esto

In an interview with Victoria Newhouse for Architectural Digest, Sejima said the Glass Pavilion’s structural glass walls “show a different kind of relationship between spaces. Everyone can see the relationship between different functions and different spaces."

In terms of Pritzker politics, the recognition of SANAA’s two partners seems to address two criticisms that have trailed the prize: the absence of female laureates—with the exception of Zaha Hadid in 2004—and the omission of recognition for Denise Scott Brown along with her husband and collaborator Robert Venturi in 1991. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, laureates in 2001, are the only other partnership in which both principals have been honored.

The members of the jury, chaired by Lord Peter Palumbo, include Alejandro Aravena, Rolf Fehlbaum, Carlos Jimenez, Juhani Pallasmaa, Renzo Piano, Karen Stein, and Executive Director Martha Thorne. Sponsored by the Chicago-based Hyatt Foundation, the Pritzker Prize comes with a $100,000 prize and a medal based on a design by Louis Sullivan.

The Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, Switzerland (2010).

Hisao Suzuki