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Royal Flush

Notes from Robert Ivy, FAIA, Editor in chief


Casino de Madrid, built in 1910

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 award.

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 year’s 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 Utzon’s 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 doesn’t 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 announced—a 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. Utzon’s 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 Spain’s first democratic king.

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 evening’s dinner smoking fine cigars.