Handicapping the Pritzker Prize, 2012 Edition

Time for my annual run-down of Pritzker Prize candidates. The announcement of this year’s winner should be coming in the next few weeks. I’ve included a broader array of architects this time in response to my overlooking of Souto de Moura last year.


3:1 – Steven Holl (American, b. 1947)

I’m sick of talking about reasons why Steven Holl should win the Pritzker. They’re presenting the prize in China this year, which is the site of many of Holl’s recent achievements. To overlook him once again would be a major snub.

5:1 – David Chipperfield (British, b. 1953)

In recent years, Chipperfield has built up a significant portfolio of slick minimalist public buildings around the world and in Great Britain, and he is curating the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale which bade well for Kazuyo Sejima in 2010. No projects in China with the exception of a museum renovation in Shanghai, which may hurt his chances this year. (Correction: Chipperfield has also completed the Liangzhu Culture Museum in Hangzhou, see comment below)

5:1 – Wang Shu (Chinese, b. 1963) of Amateur Architecture Studio

Among internationally recognized Chinese architects, Wang Shu is the prime candidate given his age and portfolio. Putting it that way is selling his firm’s work way short, however. Their material and formal experimentation at a diversity of scales is impressive to say the least. (I must acknowledge the role of Tenuous Resilience in my recognition of Wang Shu as a candidate)

7:1 – Liz Diller (American, b. Poland, 1954) and Ricardo Scofidio (American, b. 1935) of Diller Scofidio + Renfro

DS+R have completed their multi-phase renovation of Lincoln Center in Manhattan to much acclaim, and their firm is currently working on a number of major museums in the Western Hemisphere, along with the continuing work on the acclaimed High Line Park. I like their chances.

10:1 – Alberto Campo Baeza (Spanish, b. 1946)

The Pritzker has recently rewarded architects whose work has maintained consistency and quality over time, and Campo Baeza is a perfect example. Both his small houses and large cultural buildings use the same minimalist vocabulary and impeccable detailing. The clarity and reductiveness of his work is incredibly seductive but leaves some people cold.

12:1 – Giancarlo Mazzanti (Colombian, b. 1963)

The vast majority of Pritzker winners have been of European descent, and it seems high time the jury rewarded a South American architect of Mazzanti’s caliber. His work is regionally sensitive but internationally relevant, and the formal research of his recent buildings is balanced by a robust social agenda.

12:1 – Kengo Kuma (Japanese, b. 1954)

The reason Kuma’s work is so appealing is hard to put your finger on, but I think it’s mostly his experimentation with materials. If his V&A satellite in Dundee, Scotland turns out as wonderful as renderings make it appear, I think he will win soon.

15:1 – Ben Van Berkel (Dutch, b. 1957) of UN Studio

UN Studio seems to be weathering the recession just fine, working on projects in Singapore, Georgia, completing exhibition and pavilion designs in Europe and the Americas, and designing furniture. Despite being relatively quiet of late, Van Berkel is still a strong candidate.

15:1 – David Adjaye (British, b. Tanzania 1966)

Adjaye’s profile has never been higher, given that he has just broken ground for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. After that project is completed, I expect Adjaye to win.

20:1 – Toyo Ito (Japanese, b. 1941)

The second oldest of my candidates and by far the most established, Ito is not a likely winner, but would certainly be deserving. Given that he now has a museum dedicated to his architecture, the jury will be increasingly unlikely to award him the prize.

20:1 – Craig Dykers (German-American, b. 1961) & Kjetil Traedel Thorsen (Norwegian, b. 1958) of Snøhetta

Despite their first building in North America being a “failure in a flyover state” in my own words, Dykers and Thorsen continue to grab commissions and garner critical praise. When the 9/11 Memorial and their addition to SFMoMA are completed, look for Snøhetta to be strong contenders.

25:1 – Brad Cloepfil (American, b. 1956) of Allied Works

Cloepfil has just completed his most critically-lauded building to date, the wood and concrete Clyfford Still Museum in Denver. I’m not sure what Allied Works has on the boards, but if they continue to produce work as beautiful as the Still, Cloepfil could win before we know it.

25:1 – Michael Maltzan (American, b. 1959)

Another strong American candidate, Maltzan has gained much attention in recent years for his work for the Skid Row Housing Trust and small projects in Los Angeles. If larger commissions continue to roll in, I think he should win the Pritzker in the near future.

30:1 – Valerio Olgiati (Swiss, b. 1958)

I might be playing favorites here, but Olgiati has put together one of the most mystifying oeuvres of any contemporary architect. His bold use of concrete and other materials, in concert with the way he deploys vernacular references and decoration all make him a good candidate if you ask me. But it’s likely too soon after Peter Zumthor to see another Swiss architect be awarded the prize.

30:1 – Preston Scott Cohen (American, b. 1961)

Have you seen his museum addition in Tel Aviv?! That project alone should be enough to make him a candidate, but isn’t enough to win him the prize. If PSC’s practice continues to grow and his commissions do too, look for him to be a potential Pritzker winner in a few years.

50:1 – Alejandro Aravena (Chilean, b. 1967) of Elemental

Aravena is probably too young to win this year, but like Mazzanti, his incredible formal inventiveness is balanced by the social agenda foregrounded by his social housing firm Elemental. He’ll become a likely candidate in the future.

50:1 – Bijoy Jain (Indian, b. 1965) of Studio Mumbai

Studio Mumbai has increased its international profile in the past couple of years, exhibiting at the Venice Biennale and the Victoria & Albert in London, and recently publishing a monograph in El Croquis. Their work is intensely regional and specific, but its lessons for the West about integration with craftspeople and constructors are invaluable. Look for Bijoy Jain to be a future candidate.


I have admitted that it is unlikely Peter Eisenman, Daniel Libeskind or Wolf Prix will ever win the Pritzker, so I’ve dropped them from my list. There is, however, one final candidate I’d like to mention, who I think is the ultimate dark horse:

100:1 – Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957) of Fake Design

Would they do it? Give the Pritzker to an artist (one who also makes quite wonderful buildings) in China just a year after his detention for dissent? Probably not, but it would be incredible if they did.

4 Comments on “Handicapping the Pritzker Prize, 2012 Edition”

  1. evanchakroff says:

    Chipperfield’s also recently completed a new museum in Hangzhou (the Liangzhu Culture Museum). It’s good, but not amazing. His work in China is incredibly restrained (compare the Rock Bund renovation, which is subtle to the point of invisibility) – I wonder what that would say about the state of the industry – a foreign architect coming to China to do simple, elegant (even austere) buildings, rather than treating the country as a sandbox/tabula rasa….

  2. The thing about Liangzhu is that it’s sort of basically an insulting parti – “the context sucks so I’m going to block it out.” Should have been framed more positively, “borrowing from the tradition of Chinese gardens to create their own internal worlds of beauty” or something. Also the context didn’t seem all that bad, really.

    Anyway – – I didn’t comment on this before and I’m glad I didn’t, because I really thought you were out on a limb with Amateur! Their work is GREAT and certainly the best stuff we saw on the China trip, but I sort of figured they were still too young and too obscure. I guess I forgot that Ningbo was on its fair share of magazine covers and basically nobody who’s ever seen it has said “that sucks.” A deserved win. Sorry, Holl fans! Keep on waiting!

  3. evanchakroff says:

    Don’t want to brag, but I did call it back in November! Amateur Architecture is an excellent choice – well deserved. I’m working on an essay about the Hangzhou Arts Academy…. now I’m feeling a little deadline pressure :D

  4. michaelabrahamson says:

    You did call it. I remember that thread and it’s why I thought of Wang Shu in the first place. Thanks for the scoop!

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