Long considered the Nobel Prize of the built environment and one of architecture's highest honors, the Pritzker Prize for 2016 will be awarded next Wednesday morning. The annual honorific comes with a $100,000 prize and a bronze medallion, given to a living architect (or, occasionally but not always, an architecture duo) who has "produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity." The yearly event invites plenty of speculation throughout the global architecture community, and while the award presentation lacks musical numbers and reaction shots, it does offer a look at how the "official" canon of design greatness may be expanded. Recent juries have expanded the Pritzker's scope, recognizing Shigeru Ban in 2014 for his relief work and iconoclast Frei Otto in 2015 for his experimental designs, so it'll be intriguing to see how impact and importance will be defined this year.
What's the Big Deal?
On a strictly material level, the international prize, founded by Chicago's Pritzker family via their Hyatt Foundation in 1979, offers each winner $100,000, as well as a bronze medallion based on the work of Louis Sullivan (until 1987, it was a limited-edition sculpture by Henry Moore). But more importantly, it solidifies an architect's work in the firmament and promotes him (or her, though only twice!) to the status of legend. It's akin to a Hall of Fame, and as such, shapes the history and interpretation of the profession, making it a reflection of the greater goals and achievements of architects.
Who Chooses the Winner?
A jury composed of five to nine experts drawn from the fields of architecture, business and publishing meets to decide the winner. The multi-year terms of jury members are staggered to provide balance. This year's group, chaired by Lord Peter Palumbo, longtime arts patron and Chairman of the Trustees of London's Serpentine Gallery, includes: U.S. Supreme Court Stephen Breyer; Yung Ho Chang, a Chinese-born architect and educator who founded the firm Atelier Feichang Jianzhu; Kristin Feireiss, a German writer, editor and curator; past laureate Glenn Murcutt and Richard Rogers; Benedetta Tagliabue, director of Spanish architecture firm EMBT Miralles Tagliabue; Ratan N. Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, part of a massive Indian business conglomerate; and executive director Martha Thorne, the recently appointed dean of the IE School of Architecture and Design in Madrid, who participates but does not cast a vote. Thorne accepts nominations from experts across the architectural world and presents them to the jury for deliberation, though any licensed architect can send the executive director an email with a suggestion by November 1.
The Pritzker jury has often been criticized for its lack of diversity, since the award has mostly been given to European male architects. The lack of diversity made the news recently when the AIA awarded its Gold Medal to respected husband-and-wife team Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi; in 1991, the Pritzker jury gave the award to Venturi alone. A 2013 campaign to retroactively recognize Brown, which resulted in numerous articles and editorials about diversity in the profession, only highlighted the importance of the award. Statistics suggest there's more work to be done in terms of diversity. Of the 38 prizes given out since 1979, only three have gone to architects from Australia and South America (Oscar Niemeyer, Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Glenn Murcutt), and none from architects in Africa and the Middle East (we're placing Zaha Hadid in the European column). Twenty-one of the winners, or 55 percent, have been from Europe. In addition, of the 40 total Laureates (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA and Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron won joint awards), only two, Hadid and Sejima, have been women.
Front Runners for 2016:
A perennial front-runner, Holl has been discussed as a potential candidate for years [ed. note: at least among the Twitter-friendly, New York-based architecture media], and some suggest he may have lost his chance at the Pritzker, bearing additional influential work. Frankly, we're still disappointed his plan for a suspended Copenhagen bike bridge won't get built.
The Polish-American architect, often cited for his theoretical and emotional designs, has regained his momentum since his proposals were mostly cut out of the World Trade center redevelopment plans years ago. But he hasn't completed any large-scale commissions recently that would significantly alter the jury's perception of his work.
Known for avant-garde engineering, sweeping curves and skyline-defining bridges, Calatrava has been praised and put down by critics, who celebrated the Spanish architect's twisting tower in Sweden (the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat recently gave it their 10-year award), while knocking the cost overruns and issues plaguing his World Trade Center transit hub.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro
It's not difficult to make a case for this in-demand firm and its partners, whose work on the High Line has become one of the most inspirational pieces of urban design in decades, and recently opened Broad Museum was one of the year's most talked-about new buildings.
A legend of deconstructivism and a member of the New York Five, the academic and architect certainly boasts valued and influential legacy. But his roster of celebrated, finished projects, such as the Wexner Center at Ohio State University and the University of Phoenix Stadium, may be somewhat thin.
The prolific British architect has worked on an array of public buildings, including the new home of the Nobel Center in Stockholm and a masterful renovation of the Neues Museum in Berlin. His recent commission for an extension to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, coupled with a residential tower on Bryant Park in Manhattan, brings his refined aesthetic stateside.
Fujimoto's experimental work offers a playful and introspective look at space and form; who else would create a Biennial exhibit that meditated on the architectural properties of potato chips? This, however, may not be Fujimoto's year, as recent juries have leaned heavily towards awarding Asian architects.
A master of landscape art who came to prominence for her iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lin has also made her mark on the built environment, including the Museum of Chinese in America in New York. Her unorthodox selection would broaden the definition of architecture utilized by the Pritzker Jury, making a bold statement about what constitutes the built environment.
Other Candidates Who Should be In the Running
The Studio Mumbai head would be the first winner from India, and represent a shift towards an area of the world that will play a crucial role in defining architecture and design in crowded metropolises. His work also reflects a healthy appreciation of both sustainability and traditional craft.
Founded in part by Dutch architect Francine Houben, the progressive firm, based in Delft, is currently working on a project to redefine the New York Public Library, and has a varied body of work, ranging from beginnings in social housing to the striking, Stirling Prize-nominated Library of Birmingham.
Granted, Boeri's international profile rests mostly on his Bosco Verticale in Milan, a pair of tree-studded residential towers. But, that type of environmentally conscious design may be just what the jury is looking for to help redefine the definition of important architecture.
As we've noted, this is definitely Adjaye's moment. In the midst of so much attention being paid to his work, Adjaye stands out as another relatively young architect poised to potentially win at some point in his career. Now, perhaps, may be too soon to judge.
The Chilean architect brings a notable social consciousness to his work, especially his famous "half-finished" home concept, and offers a stirring counterpoint to criticism that the jury focuses on museums, towers and buildings for the upper-class. A win next week, followed by his forthcoming work as organizer of the Venice Bienniale, would make this a very exciting 2016 for the designer and educator.
The Dutch practice excels at grafting unique forms into urban environments, such as the Book Mountain and Market Hall projects in their home country. While European practices have dominated the Pritzker winner's circle for years, it would be intriguing to see another progressive firm get the nod.
The Colombian architect has built up an impressive resume of socially conscious projects over the years, including a library project in Santo Domingo that's been called an "urban Stonehedge."
The brainy Chicago architect has made a name for herself by transforming inspiration from nature and organic shapes, from the motion of rowers to the curves of rock formations, into creative, beautiful and singular structure. She may need a handful more major commissions to win over the jury, but her impressive record suggests she belongs in the prize conversation.