Eyes on the Prize

Eyes on the Prize



The stated purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is “to honor a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.” Widely held to be the world’s most prestigious architecture award, the Pritzker now shares a hometown with another significant award, the Richard H. Driehaus Award, which advocates for a very different approach to architecture and comes with a purse twice the size.

In characterizing the two prizes, it is easy to see them as representing opposing sides: modernism versus classicism; avant-garde versus derriere-garde; progressive versus reactionary. The organizers of both prizes make an effort to dispel such notions.

Martha Thorne, executive director of the Pritzker Prize, insists the jury works to uphold the prize’s mission and appraise candidates according to the broad criteria of its mission statement, not according to an aesthetic bias. “The Pritzker family is invested in having esteemed professionals of varying outlooks serve as jurors,” she said. “The jury discusses architecture in the broadest sense. You can’t put boundaries around architecture.” Each year the jury evaluates bodies of work, often traveling extensively to visit sites as a group. The notion of architecture as art is meant to be the guiding force behind the deliberations and accounts for the diversity of Pritzker laureates.

 “I have never once heard the jury talk about style,” Thorne said. “Look at some of the winners in recent years: Peter Zumthor, Sejima and Nishizawa, and Zaha Hadid are all very different.” The diversity of these recent winners equally underscores a shared commitment to an architecture that reflects the present.


The question remains as to how much the bent of the jurors influences the selection. The current jury includes architecture patron Lord Peter Palumbo as jury chair, architects Alejandro Aravena, Carlos Jimenez, Glenn Murcutt, Juhani Pallasmaa, Renzo Piano, and editor and writer Karen Stein. Jurors serve a minimum three-year term but may stay as long as they wish. Next year Yung Ho Chang, the director of the architecture program at MIT, will join the jury. Selection of jurors in many ways mirrors the selection of laureates, a process that is somewhat opaque. “The Pritzker family is tremendously supportive of the prize—both financially through the Hyatt Foundation and through their belief in the importance of architecture—and they want the jury to be completely independent,” Thorne said. “They believe the jurors should be fully empowered to make their own decision.” Aside from the cachet of being associated with the award, jurors receive no remuneration for their work, though their travel expenses are covered.


Thorne stresses the “openness” of the Pritzker noinating process—any registered architect can nominate someone, or, as in the case of 1988 co-laureate Gordon Bunshaft, they can even nominate themselves. Nominations are also sought from leading academics, critics, and former laureates. And while many associate the prize with some of the biggest and best-known names in the field, lesser-known and underappreciated architects have also consistently been tapped. Such is the case with this year’s winner, Eduardo Souto de Moura, one of Portugal’s leading architects who is nonetheless little-known to much of the architecture world and virtually unknown to a wider public.

Pritzker juror Carlos Jimenez, currently the longest serving juror, describes Souto de Moura’s work as embodying the spirit of the prize. Souto de Moura “looks at architecture from its fundamental aspect,” he said. At de Mouro’s best known work, a stadium in Braga, Portugal, “you are in the presence of a work of architecture that will outlast all of us, and yet it has a very sensual quality.”


From Jimenez’s point of view, a Pritzker laureate’s work “should have an ecumenical reach that exposes to the world the possibilities of architecture.” Each deliberation, he says, is “singular.” “Architecture as an art form needs all the help it can get,” he said. “It is so difficult to resist the bottom line mentality.”

A similar desire to bring the public’s attention to the value of architecture animates the Driehaus Prize, though the architecture it highlights is very different. “The Richard H. Driehaus Prize has been presented annually since 2003 to a living architect whose work embodies the principles of traditional and classical architecture and urbanism in contemporary society, and creates a positive cultural, environmental, and artistic impact,” according to the award’s website.

Administered by the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame, the Driehaus Architecture Prize also considers teaching and scholarship in evaluating candidates, according to Michael Lykoudis, Notre Dame’s architecture dean.

“The dialogue between so-called modernists and so-called classicists needs to be developed,” he said. Lykoudis notes that 2011 laureate Robert A.M. Stern’s work embodies that dialogue. “It all comes together wonderfully in his work. Built work, authorship, teaching, his work as a dean,” he said. “His postmodern period is very important. You see a wonderful trajectory—a contemporary architect with a strong knowledge of history.”

The Driehaus jury, which does not have set terms, includes Adele Chatfield-Taylor, director of the American Academy in Rome, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, architects David Schwartz and Leon Krier, and Robert Davis, the developer of Seaside. Like Thorne, Lykoudis attends the deliberations, but both characterize their roles as aiding the jury, not participating in the debate.


Richard Driehaus is more directly involved in his namesake prize than the Pritzker family is in theirs. He attends the jury deliberations, though Lykoudis says he never weighs in on the decision.

While the prize may emphasize importance of traditional design and continuity, Lykoudis touts the Driehaus for having a progressive agenda, especially in regards to urbanism and sustainability. Under his leadership, Lykoudis has deepened Notre Dame’s investigation of urbanism, working, he says, as a descendant of Colin Rowe. With the prize “we are making an argument, redefining what classicism means,” Lykoudis said. “We look at building practices that remain consistent across time and speak to the humanity in common across cultures.” The jurors look beyond Greco-Roman classicism to include traditional building in non-western contexts. Traditional building techniques, he argues, create a shared architectural language, due to structural limits of materials like wood and stone, while the compact nature of traditional urbanism suggests ideas for a more sustainable development model.


Lykoudis argues that the prize has a broad, international perspective, in comparison to the Pritzker. The Pritzker has come with a $100,000 purse since its inception. The Driehaus began with the same amount, but soon doubled the ante to $200,000.


And yet, the Driehaus prize remains closely tied to a much narrower group of architects, linked to an overlapping series of relationships, movements, and institutions including New Urbanism, Yale, Oxbridge, the Prince of Wales, and various developments in Florida. Laureates Stern, Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jaquelin Robertson, and juror and inaugural laureate Krier have all designed New Urbanist projects or towns in Florida. Juror Davis developed Seaside. Laureates Demetri Porphyrious and Krier both teach at Yale where Stern is the dean of the School of Architecture and where juror and Yale alum Goldberger has strong ties. Lesser-known winners such as Abel-Wahed El-Wakil have built at Oxford where Krier has also worked. Laureates Quinlan Terry and Krier have both worked for the Prince of Wales. Terry and Porphyrious have both built at Cambridge.

The Driehaus Award also tracks very closely—in terms of jurors, winners, and overlapping circles of relationships—with the 11-year old Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum. The Scully Prize recognizes “exemplary practice, scholarship, or criticism in architecture, historic preservation, and urban design.”  Driehaus juror Chatfield-Taylor, and laureates Stern, Duany and Plater-Zyberk have all been Scully prize recipients, as has the Prince of Wales, a major patron of Driehaus laureates. Driehaus juror Schwarz is the longstanding chairman of the Scully prize and Driehaus laureate Plater-Zyberk sits on the jury.

The clubby Driehaus has a distance to go before it can match the Priztker in global influence and reputation. And while the Pritzker may be critiqued for following fashion in the name of the forever now, only time will tell if the Driehaus can escape its agenda to move from architecture’s margins to the mainstream.