Milwaukee, Wisconsin, might not be the first place one thinks of when thinking about major architectural prizes, academic or professional. But for the past 12 years, the Marcus Corporation Foundation (The philanthropic branch of the Milwaukee-based entertainment company, the Marcus Corporation) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning have awarded the biannual Marcus Prize to practices around the world. The prize, one of the largest in architecture, awards $50,000 to run a studio at UWM as well as a $50,000 cash prize to the office. Former winners include MVRDV, Diébédo Francis Kéré, and most recently Sou Fujimoto. The goal of the prize is to support emerging practices “on a trajectory of greatness” and bring those voices to Milwaukee.
In its sixth iteration, the Marcus Prize has been awarded to Joshua Prince-Ramus of REX.
The choice of Prince-Ramus was driven by his office’s ambitious, yet practical, approach to architecture in an urban setting. “We understand the Marcus Prize as not just a commitment to the school, but to the city of Milwaukee,” explained Prince-Ramus in conversation with AN. “They symbolize and help drive the millennial generation’s rediscovery of the city,” jury member and architecture critic Blair Kamin said. With an emphasis on performance over function or form, no particular style or movement can be pinned to the Price-Ramus’ work. This attracted the jury, who praised the “broader cultural significance” and “typological invention” of the work.
Prince-Ramus discussed some preliminary ideas for the graduate-level studio with AN. “We have a particular position on sustainability. We plan on focusing on how density and diversification can help rehabilitate urban centers and take advantage of existing buildings and infrastructures.” Speaking on the role of adaptive reuse: “The reality of the future of architecture is in adaptive reuse. “Prince-Ramus plans on having the students work in groups covering a variety of programs to test possibilities in a handful of vacant buildings in downtown Milwaukee. “We are not going to look at beautiful 19th-century buildings, but rather the more ordinary empty buildings from the 1950s and 60s.” These types of buildings are surprisingly common in downtown Milwaukee.
The Marcus Prize studio will be held in the 2016 spring semester, and will be led by Prince-Ramus along with UWM adjunct associate professor Matthew Jarosz. Prince-Ramus will also be invited to lecture, as well as participate in public workshops.