Image courtesy of the Pritzker Prize website: http://www.pritzkerprize.com
There is one valuable technique in your design studies that, if taken advantage of, can sky-rocket your early learning.
…. And that is to spend an afternoon reading about Pritzker Prize Winners.
What exactly is that, you ask? I won’t be giving a detailed history of the Pritzker Prize in this post (you can find that on their website, should you be interested), but I will stress what the prize is all about:
“To honor a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture”.
It’s a very telling purpose. The Pritzker is generally regarded as the highest accolade a living architect can achieve in his lifetime. Basically, it’s the Nobel Prize for Architecture. From that alone, you can probably infer that Pritzker recipients are generally regarded as the cream of the crop, the design elite, the architectural gods of past and present. Of course this is not without debate; i’ll discuss why in just a bit.
I wish I took an afternoon to research on past Pritzker Laureates when I was still a young student. It would have given me a great intellectual starting point for my early courses. And that way I wouldn’t be so darn clueless when overhearing my professors discuss, “Huh? Is a Renzo piano a musical instrument? What did Norman foster? Do you know what Zahaha did?”
So go on, don’t be shy – visit http://www.pritzkerprize.com and start reading up.
There a number of things to take note of when browsing the Pritzker website. Here are some of them:
1.) All the past winners are listed there. So it’s a great starting point for your research.
You’ll find in cute thumbnail form a compendium of all previous winners way back until Philip Johnson 1979. You will undoubtedly be hearing about these architects over and over as you traverse the architectural world, so you’d be best served to do some advance reading.
Some of the industry’s contemporary giants have won the Pritzker, including Renzo Piano, Oscar Niemeyer, Peter Zumthor, Tadao Aldo, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, I.M Pei – the list goes on and on. Know their names, and start by clicking onto their little thumbnails to read their feature pages.
2.) Read each winner’s jury citation to see why they were regarded as significant.
The jury’s citation can tell you a lot about the milieu and prevailing sentiment during the time a certain laureate was awarded. Reading all about why the awards were given to the winners can help form your own opinion of what makes great architecture, giving you greater direction in your own journey.
There are also essays that are included in some more recent laureates’ pages. They too are insightful reads about the spirit of these architectural titans, carefully picked by the committee, so be sure to digest those as well.
3.) It’s a good idea to have your search engine at the ready as you browse through each Laureate’s work.
The Pritzker segments on the laureates include a handful of featured works, to give you a suitable glimpse of the winner’s architecture, but they aren’t always comprehensive. If you really want to capture the spirit of how a Pritzker winner’s work developed over time, then whip out your favorite search engine and start researching further. Regardless, the Pritzker site is a good take off point, so start there; they also put links to the winners’ websites on the feature pages, which is convenient.
4.) When you’re done reading about everyone, whip out your search engine again, and search about Pritzker controversies and politics.
Now that you’re done checking out the works, it’s time to uncover more critical perspectives. Given that the selection, nomination, and deliberation process of the Pritzker has an element of human opinion, there is always a good amount of subjectivity in choosing laureates. Such is the case with all human endeavors.
Sometimes there are controversies that arise (ex. search “Robert Venturi Denise Scott Brown Pritzker) and they are fascinating and insightful. As a young learner, it’s very valuable to concede and understand the intricacies of politics that surround our practice, especially for its brightest stars.
One last note: Just because they are the brightest stars does not mean they are the best. Naturally, best is subjective, and you will discover that some of your ‘best‘ and favorite architectural inspirations will never come close to winning the “Big P”. Such is our practice.
So don’t forget: absorbing information about Architecture’s biggest prize is an exercise in critical thinking. Don’t take anything at face value, and always look to dig deeper. It’s an important skill. Keep asking why, and form your own educated opinion.
Get reading, and let your advantage grow.
Keep well, and keep learning,