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No Retroactive Prize for Denise Scott Brown, Pritzker Jury Says, but She Remains Eligible for the Award in the Future

By Laura Mirviss and William Hanley
June 14, 2013
Photo © Matt Wargo
Denise Scott Brown in front of the Provincial Capitol Building in Toulouse, France. Designed by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, it was completed in 1999.

Denise Scott Brown will not receive a retroactive Pritzker Prize, said the chair of the award's jury, Lord Peter Palumbo, in a letter released today. The letter is addressed to the two Harvard Graduate students behind a petition to have Scott Brown honored alongside her husband and partner, Robert Venturi, who won the prize in 1991. “A later jury cannot re-open, or second guess the work of an earlier jury, and none has ever done so,” he wrote on behalf of the nine-member body.

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Palumbo’s letter left open the possibility that Scott Brown could win the prize in the future. “Let us assure you, however, that Ms. Scott Brown remains eligible for the Pritzker Award,” he wrote, adding, “Not every knowledgeable observer always agrees with the jury’s selection. But the jury will continue to do its best to select solely upon the basis of the quality of the architect’s record.” He then thanked the two students for calling attention to the problem of women receiving “a fair and equal place within the profession.”

“They should go read the petition again,” Scott Brown told Architectural Record. “It says a retroactive acknowledgment, not an award. I called for an inclusion ceremony,” she added. “We need something that says we realize this omission was bad, and a ceremony would show that our community values other ways of thinking. Otherwise the prize will go on being a sad old white man’s award.”

Scott Brown hopes the petition, which has garnered 17,380 signatures as of publication, will continue to marshal support for an ceremony and that today’s statement will only add more fuel to the fire. "I'm not distressed," she said. "I feel it's the beginning of something."

Arielle Assouline-Lichten, one of the Harvard students who drafted the petition, said that while she is unhappy with the jury’s response, she isn’t surprised. “We were anticipating that this institution, being a little archaic, wouldn’t be receptive to change necessarily, especially not in the first round. We anticipated that it would be difficult,” she says.

Assouline-Lichten says this decision is far from the end of the road. “This is still a dialogue. We are still going to talk with the Pritzker Prize committee because we still feel that they should have a revisionist strategy to their decision-making process,” she says. ”My main concern is why they don't have a system of appeals built in—similar to how our legal system looks critically at historical decisions.”

In contrast, she added, the American Institute of Architects recently announced that its national board is considering revising eligibility rules for the AIA Gold Medal Award—the institute’s highest honor—which has always been awarded to an individual. “I think that’s one really positive outcome,” Assouline-Lichten says.

She is also skeptical about the jury’s statement that Scott Brown is eligible for a future Pritzker award. “That’s appeasement,” she says. “The point is not to get a new Pritzker, either. The point is to acknowledge that we’ve made progress. We think differently than we did in the past, and that’s okay. It would be really strong for them to actually come out and say that,” she says. “It’s okay to make mistakes, the problem is when you fail to correct them,” she added.

In a given year, the Pritzker jury consists of five to nine members who serve multi-year terms. None of the current jurors were serving when Venturi won the prize.

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