Patrik Schumacher is an architect and architectural theorist based in London. He is the principal of the architecture practice Zaha Hadid Architects.
Will the Pritzker Prize remain “Architecture’s Nobel Prize”? Some relaxed musings:
There is no doubt that the work of RCR Arquitectes is very charming, thoughtful and beautiful. Neither does this work lack originality. But does this oeuvre deserve the Pritzker Prize as we have learned to understand it or does this choice rather indicate that the brief and character of the prize has changed in the hands of the current jury? I think there can be little doubt that the latter is the case: For most of its history the prize was awarded to widely acclaimed leaders of the discipline, to architects who had achieved a global reputation within their field (and often already beyond their field) and this reputation was then recognized and cemented with the prize. It seemed the jury saw its remit to make the discipline’s implicit valuations explicit. There was very little subjectivity at play. The choices seemed to be aiming for objectivity, to make a latent consensus manifest. On the basis of this consistent practice the Pritzker Prize became an institution of our discipline. This time (as well as with respect to last year’s choice) we are confronted with something else: not with the discipline’s choice but with the jury’s subjective, idiosyncratic choice. The current jury seems to have a new, different ambition: to surprise us with the discovery of a hitherto hidden gem.
My purpose here is not to criticize, just to observe and to reflect the implications. I am not sure if we must regret this shift in the character of the prize. I am certainly charmed by this year’s choice. Perhaps this new agenda is more ‘interesting’ than working through the queue of globally acclaimed architects. With respect to the old concept the suspense was in the sequence - e.g. that Sejima got the prize before Ito - while the list itself was ultimately given by the discipline’s established reputations. (Peter Eisenman, Wolf Prix, Steven Holl, David Chipperfield, MVRDV a.o. are bound to be considered sooner or later if the original concept of the prize continues after all.) Of course for those indisputable candidates still in the queue it must be frustrating if the old concept of the prize (captured in the slogan of “Architecture’s Nobel Prize”) is altogether abandoned before their turn materializes.
I wonder if the prize can maintain the keen, unique interest it commands, or will it be consuming its own reputation and significance with each new idiosyncratic surprise offering? I think the latter is a real risk. The institution is undermining itself, if not yet in utter dissolution. RCR Arquitectes (as well as last year’s choice Aravena) are certainly very talented, interesting architects, but so would have been a hundred other choices, none of which quite fit into the list which includes Luis Barragán, Oscar Niemeyer, Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas, Herzog& de Meuron, Jørn Utzon, Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers, Jean Nouvel, Kazuyo Sejima, Toyo Ito, Frei Otto a.o. The ambition, thrill and interest in the prize for architects lies in the fact that this is THE list of the discipline’s universally acclaimed greats (although a few mistakes were perhaps made along the way). A list of surprise choices like Aravena, RCR Arquitectes, … is something else, and if this new trend continues, I predict that the Pritzker Prize will lose its unique position, however interesting the discoveries of the jury might be. Perhaps a new prize will then spring up to continue the legacy and institution of the old Pritzker Prize, or can the RIBA Gold Medal step into the breach and claim the mantle? Or will the ever evolving jury of the Pritzker Prize reorient once more, before it’s too late, and chose to continue THE list, perhaps intercepted by the occasional surprise choice? Then, depending on the dosis of off-beat choices, the Pritzker Prize might remain “Architecture’s Nobel Prize” after all.