May 28, 2003
Notes from Robert Ivy, FAIA, Editor in chief
Casino de Madrid, built in
If anyone had questions about the future of the Pritzker
Prize, rest assured, the Pritzkers are planning to stay the
course. Once again, they have demonstrated how an architectural
prize should be awarded, convening a distinguished assemblage
in an international capital to bestow the honors. In this
case, the occasion in Madrid included a royal flush.
Everyone had to arrive at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts
of San Fernando early, to be seated thirty minutes in advance
of their majesties, not Mrs. Pritzker and her son Thomas,
but the King and Queen of Spain. After spending an hour or
so touring a great collection of Zurbarans and Goyas, we collected
ourselves into a magnificent baroque hall, awaiting the arrival
of the royal retinue, there to celebrate the architectural
For the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Pritzker Prize, the
organizing forces, sponsored by the Hyatt Foundation, including
Lord Rothschild, the chair, managed to capture royal cachet
for their proceedings. Don Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia presided
over a ceremony that could have been troublesome, considering
that the Pritzker family has been in the news recently, embroiled
in legal and financial disputes, and that the honoree of this
years kudos, Jorn Utzon, could not attend for health
reasons. How would the evening shine without its star?
Not to worry. The ceremony came off splendidly, replete with
a stellar cast, from juror Frank Gehry, who has avowed Utzons
influence on his own work, to solid support from the Pritzker
group itself, which managed a complex ballet of arrivals and
tours, the ceremony itself and subsequent dinner, with panache.
Having a Park Hyatt down the block doesnt hurt either.
The award, it appears, is flourishing.
The audience perked up its collective ears as new jurors
to replace longtime jury stalwarts Gianni Agnelli and J. Carter
Brown, recently deceased, were announceda coveted position,
since it lasts for a number of years and includes actual site
visits to prospective winners. Rolf Fehlbaum, the head of
the German manufacturing company Vitra and a patron of architects,
joined the cast, as did Karen Stein, the editorial director
of Phaidon Press, and a member of the Architectural Record
alumnae association, so to speak. She served the magazine
for many years.
Thomas Pritzker, son of the late Jay Pritzker, spoke and
calmed the crowd, assuring the succession of office, as did
Jan Utzon, who spoke with sincere emotion and clarity for
his father. Utzons choice had been questioned by some,
since his body of work, including the Sidney Opera House,
public housing, and his own private homes on Majorca, has
remained stubbornly small. However, those in the know universally
assented to the importance of the selection, stating that
it encouraged a wealth of formal expression by others, and
the choice constituted a courageous one for the organization.
The entire group repaired to a ground floor, outdoor reception
within the academy, where all present congratulated Bill Lacy,
who organizes the prize, together with Utzon fils. Visitors
hobnobbed with each other, ran up to oohs and aahs as they
saw old friends and the sainted and otherwise famous. More
than one worldly architect or critic made their way toward
the king and queen, who mingled and chatted in a beneficent,
approachable way appropriate to Spains first democratic
The evening culminated up a set of Palais Garnier-type steps
at the Madrid Casino, a Belle Epoque splendor next door, replete
with paintings of nudes and putti, who smiled on the chosen
few present for such an architectural accolade. The award
may prolong or celebrate the star system, or be criticized
for its choices, but it cannot be faulted for lack of style.
Everyone, including a few women, left the evenings dinner
smoking fine cigars.