May 22, 2001
Notes from Clifford A. Pearson Senior Editor
As a full moon rose over Monticello on a pleasant spring
evening, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron stepped onto
a temporary stage on the back lawn of Thomas Jeffersons
home and became the first architectural team to win the Pritzker
Prize. For 23 years, the august Pritzker jury had honored
only individual architects, even though most buildings are
the result of collaboration not solo heroics. In 1991, the
award went to Robert Venturi, not Robert Venturi and Denise
Scott Brown. Knowing that he does not work alone, Venturi
now says he will no longer accept architectural honors that
do not include his partnera position that has precluded
him from winning the American Institute of Architects
Gold Medal, for example. (Although two architectsGordon
Bunshaft and Oscar Niemeyer won the Pritzker in 1988, they
were honored as individuals, not a team, and won because the
jury was deadlocked that year.)
Herzog and de Meuron have known each other since kindergarten
and have practiced together their entire career. So it would
have been ludicrous to honor one without the other. Which
one would you pickthe taller one, the balder one, the
one who talks more? Their firm actually has two other partnersHarry
Gugger and Christine Binswangerso the issue of architectural
authorship gets a little sticky even with this years
winners. But at least there is a certain logic to focusing
on the firms two founding partners.
Of course, including everyone who had a finger on the CAD
mouse isnt the right approach to architectural awards
either. The whole idea of awards, after all, is to turn the
spotlight on shining talent, to select the few from the many.
Individuals, especially those with strong personalities, are
almost always more memorable and attention-getting than groups.
Honor a laundry list of people and youre not likely
to get much space in newspapers or general-interest magazines.
And bringing architecture to the attention of the public is
a key goal of programs like the Pritzker, and rightly so.
Dining on poached salmon, veal medallions, miniature tomatoes,
and mixed greens, the black-tie crowd at Monticello on May
7 raised glasses of wine but few objections to this years
Pritzker winners. The buzz was mostly positive. No backbiting
or second-guessing the jury. Although only in their early
50s, Herzog and de Meuron have an impressive list of sparkling
buildings to their credit and their Tate Modern in London
is probably the most talked-about project to be completed
in the last 12 months. The pair of architects is hot, in the
news, and remains busy with high-profile projects such as
the de Young Museum in San Francisco, offices for Prada in
New York, and an addition to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
They are clearly in their prime, not past it.
Indeed, the Pritzker jury has mostly steered clear of geezers
recentlyhaving honored Rem Koolhaas last year and Christian
de Portzamparc in 1994 when he was still in his 40s. As a
result, the award has the aura of fresh air, not the kiss
of death. Since the Pritzker is one of architectures
most reliable newsmakers, its important to keep this
program vibrant and relevant. Recognizing the collaborative
nature of the art and honoring teams that are pushing design
in new directions are good ways of doing that.