The Pritzker Party
Yesterday the 2018 Pritzker Prize was awarded to B.V. Doshi. This is important because Pritzker prizes are one of the best things that have happened to architecture of the last few decades.
The Pritzker is basically a hugely brilliant communications strategy that has achieved the feat of having people in much of the world talk about nothing but architecture for a full day once a year. It’s simple. As there was no such thing as the Nobel Prize for Architecture, they invented it. And it worked. All of the media noise generated around it, including this post, does nothing more than further it. We can debate, question, or joke – and joke we do. It all goes to making more noise. Then come the closer looks. We take a look in depth and even learn something about different types of architecture, cultures and architects that we otherwise wouldn’t.
One could object that prizes are for the elite who build, for voluminous work. Or for unique assignments. Humankind started to signify itself long before writing. We were human when we protected ourselves from fire and made homes for ourselves. We were human when we started to harness the environment at our whim. We started to signify ourselves by picking up a big rock, a very big, heavy rock, the thinnest rock we could find, and stood it up vertically defying the laws of physics. We extruded an end and staked a claim for ourselves in the world.
Architecture invented religion.
Architecture invented God.
It wasn’t the other way around.
The Pritzker Prizes are one up-to-date manifestation of this age-old mechanism. They celebrate those who continue to defy the laws of physics. They celebrate those who call into question that we can still reorganise nature. They celebrate those appointed by society to take care of these issues: architects.
This only works if it’s done properly. And it has been. The Pritzkers have always been awarded to those who deserved them. 1 The Pritzker prize works on the principle of delegation. Chipperfield, Perrault, Holl don’t have that. So many others died without it. But hey, no problem. It’s just as important to award prizes to those who prize themselves as it is to know that behind them there are others who also deserve one. Knowing that the prize is not exceptional. It’s true that there are people who become obsessed with the issue and spend millions of euros lobbying and organising congresses with unlikely results so that maybe one day Paul Auster will write a nice story about it. And it’s sad. It will all be money because the legend will fatten one the prize comes.
I’ll press the point. The Pritzkers are collective prizes. I feel represented by Doshi. I felt represented by RCR (for obvious reasons), but also by Sejima-san, by Koolhaas, by Barragán and by Siza(1).
It was clear what the Pritzker prizes were when the first prize was awarded to Philip Johnson. By a whisker, it was almost awarded to Fernando Higueras, which would have given us a very different view of ourselves today. But Pops was Pops. And hell, he deserved it.
It was clear what the Pritzker prizes were with that telephone call by the organisation to Gordon Bunshaft in 1987 requesting advice on new candidates. Bunshaft told them to stop looking. No one better than himself to earn the prize. And hell, he deserved it.1
It’s all a joke. A serious joke. But a joke.
What about Doshi? Carlos Arroyo, an architect I respect greatly, says he deserves a Pritzker. That’s enough for me. Then I took a look at his work and saw breathtakingly beautiful spaces. I discovered a genuine tie with his culture, with the environment, with public space. I discovered that his curriculum vitae would bring down the whole of Linkedin if he ever decided to post it there. Of course Doshi deserves the Pritzker. He and many of the nominees. What’s important is the festivities. What’s also important is not making a mistake and giving it to just any Calatrava that comes along. Prestige takes a very long time to earn and is lost in an instant.
Today is the 8th of March and I think it is very important for the Pritzkers to be awarded for the next 10 or 20 only to women. Thus far they only account for 6.8% of the award-winners. Three of them, to be exact. And 33.3% of them are deceased, in other words Zaha. If instead of thinking in terms of percentages we referred to their contributions, we would discover that 6.8% is not enough indeed. Zaha revolutionised her field, although she did not age well. Pigem-san and Sejima-san represent everything architecture needs to be over the next several years. And there are women candidates. Just to pick a few names out of a hat we have Odile Decq, Tatiana Bilbao, Momoyo Kaijima, Patricia Urquiola, Anne Lacaton, Yvonne Farrell, Shelley McNamara, Cecilia Puga, Manuelle Gautrand, Alison Brooks, Liz Dillier, Nathalie de Vries, Carme Pinós, Francine Houben, Amanda Levete and many, many more. Doing this would hardly repair what happened to Denise Scott Brown or to Anne Tyng. But the message would be priceless.
I’ll leave it at that.
Text translated by Beth Gelb