SANAA’s Sejima and Nishizawa predictably (but justifiably) win 2010 Pritzker Prize

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The 2010 Pritzker Prize has just been awarded to Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the Japanese architects who helm the increasingly ubiquitous firm SANAA (see a slide show of their work here).  Because the prize was just announced, I have yet to really form a reaction to their selection.  But I can say that while I did not expect them to win quite yet, given their relative youth and somewhat recent “admission” to the small number of firms at the top of the profession, their body of work thus far is certainly worthy of the Pritzker Prize. 

The Pritzker Prize’s purpose is to “honor a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and consistent contributions to humanity and the built environment” via architecture.  

With a purpose like that, the annual prize could go to any number of architects, but as a practical matter, the guessing game is inevitably centered upon three types of architects: (1) youngish, prodigious “rockstars” whose identities are just becoming familiar to the general public; (2) aging, near-death (to be blunt) architects who have somehow been overlooked by the committee (due to a recent surplus of worthy candidates, politics, or some other reason); and (3) accomplished, under-the-radar professionals who are every bit as brilliant as their headline-grabbing brethren. 

SANAA’s Sejima and Nishazawa certainly fall under (1); incredibly, their firm is only 15 years old, and it wasn’t until they completed the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City that they really intruded upon and permanently set up shop in the Western World’s consciousness.  And since that commission, they have had a flurry of high-profile projects completed or begun that exhibit as much originality and whimsy as their skittish stack of boxes in Manhattan, including The Rolex Learning Center at a school in Switzerland and the De Kunstlinie Theater and Learning Center in Holland.  (In 2003 the pictured Christian Dior store was built in Tokyo.)

Cesar Pelli is the first architect that comes to mind for (2), closely followed by Michael Graves.  He is in his eighties and has been “in line” for the prize for over a decade if not longer (note, as far I know, Pelli is perfectly healthy).  Despite his extensive body of work (heavily biased toward corporate architecture and skyscrapers in particular), he was surprisingly not even included in FastCompany’s recent selection of architects most-likely-to-win this year’s Pritzker.   And frankly, I am increasingly convinced - with each year that passes without Pelli being selected - that his peers simply don’t think he deserves to win, perhaps because the committee may view his work as somewhat bland or lightweight, intellectually.   

Last year’s winner, Peter Zumthor, perfectly embodies the third type of winner.  For decades, Zumthor has labored on modest-sized commissions (e.g., the Thermal Bath Vals or Saint Benedict Chapel in Graubunden, Switzerland) - projects often overlooked by the non-architecture media - and produced sculptural works within a relatively small geographic area (most of his buildings are in Switzerland, where he’s from). 

Who will win next year?  If not Pelli or Graves, I suspect it will be Steven Holl, since his output is prodigious, respected, and still flowing;  I’m pulling for Toyo Ito or Shigeru Ban, but none of the options would leave me unsatisfied.   

Related Posts:  (1) SANAA’s Serpentine Pavilion is anything but; (2) Zumthor accepts Pritzker Prize in Buenos Aires; (3) StructureHub Review:  Refreshingly disheveled lumps of…

Image courtesy of naoyafujii.

One Comment

  1. [...] the jury citation for this year’s Pritzker Prize was written to praise SANAA’s Kazuo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, a couple phrases bubble over [...]

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