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The American Institute of Architects New York chapter withdrew the Design Prize awarded to Meier in 2018.

Female Architects, the Pritzker and Other Awards

Text by Inés Moisset

When the British Society of Artists and Designers granted an award to Charles Eames in 1967, to his partner they only gave her a red rose.

Next March the Hyatt Foundation will once again present the esteemed Pritzker Prize, the most known award in architecture. Only three women have ever been awarded the Pritzker in all of its 41 editions. The Iraqui woman Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker in 2004 and she is the only woman who it has been awarded to solely. In 2010 Japanese Kazuyo Sejima was the second woman to be awarded the Pritzker. On this occasion she asked that the prize be granted jointly with her partner Ryūe Nishizawa. Finally, the Catalan RCR team, made up of Carme Pigem, Rafael Aranda, and Ramón Vilalta, was recognized in 2017. Carme is the only one of the three women winners who is a mother.

In at least three anterior occasions of the Pritzker, the prize was granted solely to the male partner of a team of architects. The most recognized case is that of Denise Scott-Brown, Robert Venturi’s partner (Pritzker 1991) with whom he worked with and they signed all of their pieces jointly during 26 years. Denise was brave enough to confront the system, protesting continuously for her exclusion. She did not attend the award ceremony and she wrote texts reporting the situation as Sexism and the Star System in Architecture (1989). In one interview Denise refers to Lord Palumbo, jury member of the Pritzker prize as “…he really is a jackass. He said: “History cannot be rewritten.”” The resistance to admitting the error on behalf of the organization makes the resistance of the current patriarchal structures evident. A group of students from Harvard University started a petition in Change.org to grant Denise Scott-Brown the Pritzker award retroactively in 2013. The petition received more than 20,000 signatures, among those which included the names of some very prestigious and well known architects, as well as newspapers such as The New York Times who decided to raise awareness about the issue, bringing visibility to Scott-Brown’s exclusion. Denise was later commended by other important institutions, but she is still yet to receive the Pritzker prize. The Hyatt Foundation also did not want to reconsider the granting of the 2014 prize to Richard Meier, who was implicated in cases of aggressive sexual harassment, preferring not to make comments “about the private life of our prize-winners.”1

In 1986 the Pritzker was awarded to Gottfried Böhm and not to his partner and spouse Elisabeth Haggenmüller. Between 1950 and 1959 Elisabeth spent the majority of her time taking care of the four children that her and her husband had, although she was also always connected to their professional life. Starting in 1959 she retook her job, started to develop her own projects, and the studio changed it’s name to Böhm Studio. In other words, at the time of receiving the Pritzker Prize the couple had been working together for nearly 30 years.

In 2012 the award was granted to Wang Shu and not to Lu Wenyu , his partner in Amateur Architecture Studio for 25 years. She convened that the two of them had converted into one, and he demanded the recognition for both, but she preferred to not receive it, stating in an interview that the architecture that they do “is that which he has always wanted to do.” Furthermore, she manifested their difficulties in reconciling the profession and motherhood: “I want a life and I prefer to spend it with my son,” she said.

Very few women have formed part of the jury of the Pritzker Prize and the majority of those that have have belonged to the field of architectural critique. Currently, of the seven judges only two are women: Kazuyo Sejima and Benedetta TagliabueWill it ever be 50%?

The dynamic of the Pritzker is replicated in the majority of the other architectural awards such as the Praemium Imperiale, the AIA Gold Medal, and the prizes that each country grants to its best creators.

In 2013 the Sajonia Art Academy announced Matthias Sauerbruch as the winner of the Gottfried Semper Prize. Matthias protested for the direct omission of his partner Louisa Hutton, and faced with his complaints the institution updated the regulations which previously stated that the award was to be granted to one sole person, and they recognized both of the partners as winners.

Towards the end of last year a recognition petition for Doriana Mandrelli went viral. She is Massimiliano Fuksas’s partner, yet the Instituto Nazionale di Architettura granted the Premio alla Carriera Architettura to him and him alone.

Currently, the collective Part W is pushing an initiative to create an exclusively female alternative to the predominantly male list of winners of the Royal Gold Medal from RIBA. Since the medal was awarded for the first time in 1848, there have been 165 males winners, only one woman winner, and three mixed teams.

The promoters of the awards defend themselves saying that the prizes are granted in accordance with the merit of each person. But is it really possible to differentiate between a team of people who has more merit and who has less? Are they suggesting that women have made less relevant  contributions in the field of architecture? Total disregard for half of the intelligence of the planet has been patented in these elections. The prize system forms part of a patriarchal system which reveals the utter lack of female figures in the phase of: encouraging women to become architects, in the difficulties in finding work in firms as a female architect, in the no recognition of reproductive labor (and the lack of male compromise with these tasks), and in the absence of representative female voices as institutional authorities, conference speakers, and jury members. It is time to deconstruct the system and rethink everything from what deserves merit to what is architecture.

Inés Moisset, Argentina, March 2019


Text translated by Kaitlyn P. Delaney
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The American Institute of Architects New York chapter withdrew the Design Prize awarded to Meier in 2018.

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