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Holl Wins Half-Million Dollar Spanish Prize

March 16, 2009

By David Cohn

Earl R. Flansburgh
Steven Holl
Photo courtesy Steven Holl Architects

The first edition of the BBVA Foundation’s Frontiers of Knowledge Prize in the Arts, sponsored by the Spanish bank BBVA, has been awarded to American architect Steven Holl. The 400,000 euro prize (roughly US $500,000), whose announcement surprised even Holl, is a another sign of the apparent good health of the Spanish banking system, following the BBVA's recent announcement of a new headquarters building by Herzog and De Meuron.

The jury cited for distinction “the humanistic values that Steven Holl has preserved in his work, promoting social and cultural fundamentals without sacrificing his continual presence in the architectural vanguard.” It praised “the quality of his realized work, which has evolved a personal language and a recognizable identity.” The prize is one of eight 400,000 euro awards recognizing “fundamental advances” in the basic sciences, the social and natural sciences, the arts and technology.

Born in 1947, Holl is the author of projects such as the Linked Hybrid complex in Beijing, the Simmons Hall dormitories at MIT, the Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, and the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum in Helsinki. He teaches architecture at New York’s Columbia University.

According to a jury member, Holl was nominated for the prize by the Nelson-Atkins Museum, and competed with nine other finalists. The jury was headed by Reinhard Brembeck, a German music critic, and included the composers Luis de Pablo and Helmut Lachenmann, the Spanish architects Antón García-Abril and Ramón Sanabria, and the British art critic Richard Whitehouse, among others.

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Steven Holl told RECORD, “I am amazed and shocked to receive this award, as I wasn’t even aware of being nominated for it.” He plans to put the money toward his firm’s pro-bono projects and cited the Youth Wellness Center for Bremerton, Washington.

Holl added that he felt especially honored “to receive an award that lays such importance on the interrelation of the arts. I believe the relationship of all the arts becomes especially [evident] in architecture, and it is in architecture that it finds its fullest expression."

Holl will travel to Madrid for an awards ceremony sometime this spring.

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