Let’s Give the Pritzker Prize the Right Name

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The Pritzker Architecture Prize is titled incorrectly. It should be called "the Pritzker Prize for Modernist Architecture." That's what it is, and there's nothing wrong with that. But its current name implies that it recognizes achievement in the entire field of architecture, and that posture is misleading - if not downright deceptive.

The recent announcement of Eduardo Souto de Moura of Porto, Portugal, as winner of the 2011 Pritzker Architecture Prize confirms once again that the Pritzker Prize is restricted to a certain type of architecture. Pritzker juries have invariably only honored architects who adhere to Modernist ideology and who believe that architecture has nothing to learn from the past. This latest Pritzker award also casts into sharp relief why the Driehaus Prize is so important and necessary.

According to its prospectus, the purpose of the Pritzker Prize is: "To honor a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, [one] which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture." It's a very general specification - leaving almost total latitude to the jury. Nothing in the purpose speaks to architectural style or philosophy. Therefore, the critical determinant of who the winner will be is: who's on the jury. And if the jury panel is stacked with persons imbued with Modernist ideology, the type - if not the name - of the winner is preordained.

A roster of some recent Pritzker laureates makes the case: Peter Zumthor, Jean Nouvel, Richard Rogers, Thom Mayne, Zaha Hadid, Herzog & Meuron, Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster, Renzo Piano, et al., et al. Some are international "starchitects"; others are not as well known. But they all share the same emphasis on novelty and the belief that buildings should be stand-alone sculptures. The concept of buildings as harmonious components of an urban ensemble is totally alien to them. And the Pritzker's system of overlapping terms of jurors - along with the predilections of the prize's administrators - assures continuance of the Modernist culture in the Pritzker jury pool.

The advent of the Driehaus Prize was a welcome counterweight to the Pritzker. First of all, the Driehaus has an honest name: "The Richard H. Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture." Unlike the Pritzker, the Driehaus specifically recognizes fundamentally different philosophies within the architectural universe. Driehaus laureates are drawn only from the ranks of architects who work in the classical and historical tradition - architects who are de facto excluded from the Pritzker. The Driehaus Prize does not pretend (like the Pritzker) to cover the entire world of architecture.

So I extend hearty congratulations to Robert A.M. Stern, the 2011 winner of the Richard H. Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture. And, in the spirit of bi-partisan comity, I also congratulate Eduardo Souto de Moura, winner of the 2011 Pritzker Prize for Modernist Architecture.