Friday, July 19, 2013

The Pritzker Prize and Fairness

The Pritzker Prize is presently THE big award in the field of Architecture.

Sure there's the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects.  But that, as the label says, is purely American (well, U.S.A.), while the Pritzker is world-wide.  Founded in 1979, this award is notably more inclusive in the nationality/religion/skin-color departments and has even, in 2004, started awarding awards to women.  Zaha Hadid was the first female to win, followed by Kazuyo Sejima (who shared that year's prize with Ryue Nishizawa).

The AIA, I'm sorry to say, has never awarded a single gold medal to a single woman.  Ever.  Not in 106 years of existence.

So obviously there have been no women in the practice of architecture in the U.S.

No?  Well, obviously no women who were any good.  Okay, well not until just lately, far too recently to have won medals.   Though...  Julia Morgan?  Early 1900s.  Designed 700 buildings  in California, including Hearst Castle.  Or, jumping to today's crop of wrong-gender American architects, how about Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang? Won a MacArthur "genius" grant.  (Earlier post HERE.)  Or how about that eminent and widely influential architect and theorist Denise Scott Brown?  No gold necklace?

But misogyny is tomorrow's topic.  Today's controversy is another injustice:

In 1991 architect Robert Venturi won the Pritzker Prize.  His architectural partner (of 22 years then, 44 now)  was Denise Scott Brown.  She was co-author with Venturi and Steven Izenour of the seminal book Learning from Las Vegas which put them all on the architectural map.  "Denise Scott Brown is my inspiring and equal partner,"  Venturi writes in the public petition asking the Pritzker Committee to acknowledge her contribution to the work Venturi alone is credited with.

Photo of Denise Scott Brown and Las Vegas  from the petition page HERE.

Architecture is a collaborative design field.  Just as theater or film is.  It's obviously unfair to single out one member of a partnership and ignore the other.  Co-authors are self-acknowledged equals.  But even when creative contributions are less comparable, credit is due where credit is due.  In film a director gets prominent billing, but gaffers get credits.  Theater programs credit a wide range of contribution and ought - and sometimes do - credit the carpenters.

Scott Brown herself asks, "Let's salute the notion of joint creativity."

Please consider signing the petition asking the Pritzker Prize committee to remedy their omission of two decades ago, giving credit now where it's due.  Read the petition HERE.

I am grateful to Metropolis magazine for bringing this to my attention.  Read the article "Architecture's Lean In Moment" by Alexandra Lange HERE.  (BTW, Metropolis is one of the few architecture rags worth reading.)

ADDENDUM:  The Pritzker last year stiffed another female collaborator, when they failed to recognize Lu Wenyu when honoring her husband Wang Shu.  (He signed the petition.)  Two other partnerships have been recognized however.  At best it's... inconsistent.  Architectural Record article HERE.

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