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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pritzker Musing

It's virtually impossible to write about The Pritzker Architecture Prize without discussing what other people are saying about the newest recipient. Coverage is fast and furious (see yesterday's ArchNewsNow for a few links and Google News for many more), and questions of "are they worthy" seem to take precedence over other concerns. This year's winners, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (aka SANAA), are known for minimal, ethereal designs of glass, metal and concrete. This fact is seen by James S. Russell (Bloomberg) as a disservice "at a time of profound challenges in the field." That they are the second duo (after Herzog & de Meuron) and Sejima is the second woman (after Zaha Hadid) to win the coveted prize is mentioned in just about all coverage (Cityscapes), and Christopher Hawthorne (LA Times) focuses on the former. While he quotes how the jury believes "it is virtually impossible to untangle which individual is responsible for what aspect of a particular project," there is one thing missing from this and other coverage: the individual practices of Sejima and Nishizawa that exist alongside SANAA.

The collaborative aspect of SANAA that Hawthorne and the jury praises is certainly nothing new, but that each retains their own individual practice is very unique. Many partnerships splinter as two or more designers and their egos do battle. Thom Mayne received the prize in 2005, but for a long time Morphosis was him and Michael Rotondi, who formed ROTO Architects in 1995. It's cliche but oftentimes true to say that a firm does not have room for more than one great designer. I think SANAA manage by allowing their own practices to exist and be treated equally; SANAA does not take precedence over the others, even though the commissions may get more press. But what is also important about this three-part structure, and is something that makes their choice for the Pritzker a little more complicated, is how the projects of each practice are not so easily distinguishable from the others. To be sure SANAA's commissions tend to be larger, but the minimalism, pristine surfaces and complex spaces are present in all their output. The award is given to Sejima and Nishizawa, but it can also be seen as a validation of all their work, whichever name gets the formal credit.

Previous Sejima/Nishizawa/SANAA coverage on my web pages:
:: Dior Building (Sejima)
:: Moriyama House (Nishizawa)
:: New Museum of Contemporary Art (SANAA, building)
:: New Museum of Contemporary Art (SANAA, project)
:: Onishi Hall (Sejima)
:: Rolex Learning Center (SANAA)
:: SANAA Houses (Sejima, Nishizawa, SANAA)
:: SHIFT: SANAA and the New Museum (SANAA)
03-31 Correction: Christopher Hawthorne does indeed mention the separate practices of Sejima and Nishizawa: "Both continue to operate their own smaller, separate firms."


  1. I don't know why this committee passes on someone like Steven Holl. I'm always challenged by the depth of his process, his lifelong dedication to education and his built (and unbuilt) architecture.

  2. Holl was my first choice, not only for his quality portfolio that spans many years, but the amazing 2009 he had with construction and openings on project in China especially. I certainly thought it was his year, but it's hard to say when the jury is only seven people, not a wider party of interested people.

  3. Yes, Steven Holl could have been honored, but SANAA is equally deserving of the prize, although I was expecting the honor to come much later in their careers. I thought Shigeru Ban would be the laureate this year.

  4. An ex aequo award, huh?...


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