Handicapping the Pritzker Prize, 2013 Edition

After last year’s successful pick of dark horse Wang Shu (5:1 odds), a continuation of my Pritzker Prize series seems in order. No promises for a similar success this year, but I think that Shu might be a bellwether for changes in the ambitions of the prize. Perhaps the jury as currently composed will  be able to set aside the Eurocentrism of decades past and see to it that a more broad array of architects are on the list of nominees.


5:1 – 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. In the past few years a number of his completed projects have made the rounds of architecture publications, and they have all been wonderfully inventive and quite beautiful. Kuma also strives to make an environmentally conscious architecture that is also aesthetically robust.

5:1 – David Adjaye (British, b. Tanzania 1966)

Adjaye’s profile has never been larger, with the National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. under construction, and with his studio’s incredible churning of publications. It would be a great boon for the Pritzker to be awarded to an architect of African descent, and Adjaye is the strongest candidate in my opinion.

8:1 – Giancarlo Mazzanti (Colombian, b. 1963)

The Pritzker hasn’t typically rewarded architects whose work has much of a social agenda, but Mazzanti is an example of an architect whose work is aesthetically daring and socially active. South American architects are extremely underrepresented in the Pritzker canon, and Mazzanti would be a great choice to start changing that.

8:1 – Liz Diller (American, b. Poland, 1954) and Ricardo Scofidio (American, b. 1935) of Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Lincoln Center is done. The Hirshhorn Bubble continues to incite controversy. The High Line is ongoing and continues to accrue much acclaim. The Broad and Berkeley Art Museums are under construction, as are several large academic buildings. Now’s the time for DS+R in my opinion.

10:1 – 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 just curated the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale which bade well for Kazuyo Sejima in 2010. That being said, Chipperfield is a well-known British architect at the height of his career, which doesn’t align with the stated ambition to award those whose careers are on the upswing.

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 minimal vocabulary and impeccable detailing. The clarity and reductiveness of his work is seductive but leaves many people cold.

10:1 – Sou Fujimoto (Japanese, b. 1971)

By far the youngest candidate on my list, Fujimoto has been on a meteoric rise the past two or three years, raising his international profile by exhibiting at the Venice Biennale, and promoting his works worldwide through photographs by Iwan Baan and others. It has just been announced that he will be building this year’s Serpentine Pavilion in London, and the vast majority of architects invited to do so were or became Pritzker winners. He has a strong chance.

12:1 – Manuel & Francisco Aires Mateus (Portuguese, b. 1963 & 1964)

Rising fast, the brothers Aires Mateus are nominated for the Mies van der Rohe prize this year, and exhibited an impressive work at the Venice Biennale. Good candidates.

15:1 – Steven Holl (American, b. 1947)

I think Holl has become a long shot. If they were going to give it to him, they would have done so by now. As a world-famous American architect in his 60s, he doesn’t fit the bill for the new Pritzker.

15:1Sean Godsell (Australian, b. 1960)

His rather amazing Design Hub at RMIT opened this year, after almost two decades of residential work that has mined the potentials of architectural skins and surfaces. I think he would be a great choice. Boxes have never looked as good.

20:1 – Ben Van Berkel (Dutch, b. 1957) and Caroline Bos (Dutch, b. 1959) of UN Studio

Though UN Studio seems to be quiet lately, its collaborative partners are still strong candidates because of the well-considered balance of theorizing and building that makes up their practice. The Mercedes Benz Museum they completed a few years ago remains one of my favorite buildings of the last decade, and seems to have been overlooked at the tail end of our worldwide obsession with  iconic architecture.

25:1 – 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.


I have admitted that it is unlikely Peter Eisenman, Toyo Ito, Daniel Libeskind or Wolf Prix will ever win the Pritzker, so I’ve dropped them from my list. I also think that in the interest of diversification, it’s not likely that a younger North American architect will win this year either. That disqualifies Michael Maltzan, Brad Cloepfil, John & Patricia Patkau, and several others who would have been strong contenders ten or fifteen years ago.


Dubstep, The Dirty House, and the Aesthetics of Recycling

I experienced a curious bit of symmetry today between an article I discovered yesterday and some music I purchased this morning. The article was “Ornament from grime: David Adjaye’s Dirty House, the architectural ‘aesthetic of recycling’ and the Gritty Brits” by Ben Campkin, and the music was James Blake’s Klavierwerke EP.

Campkin, a Lecturer in Architectural History and Theory at the Bartlett and Co-Director of the UCL Urban Laboratory, argues in his article that David Adjaye, in his production of the Dirty House, adopts what has been called an “aesthetics of recycling,” a self-conscious exploration of the qualities and meanings of degraded materials.

While it would have made more financial sense to remove it, Adjaye and his clients chose to keep the shell of a former furniture warehouse, gutting the interior to create a pair of sculpture studios and capping it with an open plan penthouse. Adjaye radically modernized the building while keeping its now-ghostly shell. This shell is coated with an expensive but unpretentious matte black paint. Specially formulated to prevent the posting of fliers and the presence of graffiti on the surface, Campkin describes this drab paint as a ubiquitous presence on elements of London’s civic infrastructure. Punctuating this shell are two window types, transformations of the original building’s normative openings into flush mirrored surfaces on the first floor and deep recesses on the second. Despite the new paint, the rough and uneven original shell is unavoidably present, transformed through its paint and deep window recesses into something very alien to its surroundings.

At the same time, Adjaye’s metamorphosed warehouse seems to belong. Its myriad textures absorb the atmosphere and context, changing with the weather and with sunlight from a light gray to a slick black. The simple change in color requires one to reflect on adjacent textures, placing them in a new, deeper relief.


David Adjaye, Dirty House (2002)


One could argue similar reuse and transformation occurs in dubstep, an electronic music style developed in London during the same period as the Dirty House was being constructed. Dubstep, like most electronic music, makes heavy use of sampling, but one of the things that makes it different is its clipping, cropping, and stretching of said samples, specifically vocals, to the point that they are almost unrecognizable. Dubstep artists like Burial make heavy use of digital effects to transform human voices into sounds more at home in science fiction than the dance floors of London.

James Blake, a young London producer in the dubstep tradition, constructs deceivingly simple tracks using pieces and parts of his own piano melodies along with heavily altered samples. What makes his Klavierwerke EP so striking, however, and what had so much resonance for me with Adjaye’s Dirty House, is his use of silence. The centerpiece of the EP is “I Only Know (What I Know Now),” an incredible track that at times seems to disappear completely, completely stopping in a way that makes me concentrate strongly on ambient sound. Blake’s music is far from minimalist, but it focuses my attention on the context of my aesthetic experience the same way a sculpture by Donald Judd would.

Similarly, the Dirty House is an extremely silent piece of architecture. Its matte texture, mirrored glass and cantilevered roof all seem to draw London in, to make the context a part of the experience instead of the other way around. By creating difference through transformation, and leaving room for atmosphere, Adjaye and Blake conflate the aesthetics of recycling with those of minimalism, and I wanted to point out their strange symmetry.