And the Prize Goes to...
Doug Kelbaugh - Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
I nominate Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects for the Pritzker Prize.
This highly decorated but quiet firm is led by an American and Asian couple who are as notoriously modest as they are talented. Their iconic buildings currently include the Presidential Center for Barack Obama, who awarded them the National Medal of Arts in 2013. Tod and Billie were our College's first Eliel Saarinen Visiting Professors, when they delivered a poignant lecture “Slow Architecture” on their thoughtful design philosophy and egalitarian office culture. In their own words:
We see architecture as an act of profound optimism.
Its foundation lies in believing that it is possible to make places on the earth that can give a sense of grace to life—and believing that this matters. It is what we have to give and it is what we leave behind.
We measure the value of our work by the quiet pleasure of the lives lived in our buildings.
We want to solve problems and we want to transcend solutions.
We try to work with a thoughtful integrity to make buildings that will last and be loved.
We want to leave good marks upon this earth.
This work comes from two voices and many voices.
It's only a matter of time before the Pritzker jury selects them. Why don't we beat them to it?!
Jordan Turkomani - No One Comes to Mind
I’m sure there are tons of ethical women architects that deserve the Pritzker. But when I sat down to nominate the perfect someone(s) for this issue of Knot, no one came to mind. I don’t mean to suggest that no such architects exist, I just don’t know any off the top of my head. If I had a Venn diagram with circles for “ethical,” “woman,” and “architect,” I would be able to fill out every part besides the center without doing any research. But why can’t I think of someone that’s all three?
Spitballing an incomplete list of reasons:
Obtaining and maintaining fame is a separate skillset from doing good work. Consider the standard criticism of BIG’s work – that it prioritizes marketability at the expense of the architecture.
The obvious – sexism, the glass ceiling, men taking credit.
Ethics aren’t usually visual, and visuals drive fame. Understanding the premise of an ethical project nearly always requires reading text, which is slower and takes more effort than merely reacting to an attractive rendering.
Trying to address societal problems through design often leads, not to exciting new forms, but to unglamorous and even only tangentially-architectural acts like setting up soup kitchens and homeless shelters. “Very rarely does ethics become…a selling point for a client, or a selling point when you’re talking about a studio project.”1
I know that more research would have eventually led me to someone deserving of the Pritzker. Instead, I ask – why aren’t they already in the spotlight?
- LA Times Interview with new Woodbury dean, Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-ca-cm-building-type-woodbury-20170820-story.html
Laura Devine - I'll Have My Cake
...and eat it too. As I thumb through my mental rolodex of architects, some seem promising but eventually I toss each one aside for one reason or another. I hit the end and wind up empty handed. No practice seems to completely fit the bill for the Pritzker prize but some come very close. I propose a re-mix; I’ll make up my own rules and nominate slices of practices that I admire and imagine their totality worthy of the prestigious honor.
MASS Design Group for their business model & ethics. MASS is testing and succeeding at a new model of practice by functioning as a non-profit organization that directly goes against the grain of motivations for climbing the starchitect ladder. They may gain fame, but not too much fortune. Their practice is “optimized to deliver maximum impact to [their] partners and the communities they serve,”1 suggesting a shift in a code of ethics that mirrors some of the more recent laureates. They forefront advocacy in their projects and test the transformative agency of architecture to work in real-world conditions.
SHoP Architects for their interdisciplinary risks. These folks don’t mind sharing the spotlight (even with women!) and don’t mind talking about money. Their 5 partner team sharply contrasts the overwhelmingly ‘solo genius’ trend of laureates and dares that maybe, more is more. With more, they have partners with interdisciplinary backgrounds including art history, investment banking, and political science. They take bigger risks that sometimes soar and sometimes sour. Lastly, they’re experimenting with breaking into other phases of the building process—including financing and construction—to ensure they can provide a better product, and probably increase their returns along the way.
Urban Think Tank for their theoretical and practical academic research on informality. These guys successfully navigate having their heads in the clouds but their feet on the ground. They focus on the conditions and implications of rapid urbanization that result in informality that is both socially and environmentally stressful. This pair works on global trends but also proposes and builds acupunctural interventions in neighborhoods. They feel the importance of addressing the complexities of informal settlements, and marry their very successful academic careers with an impressive practice.
While this list may be indulgent and a convenient way to avoid committing, it all seems fair over a slice of red velvet.
Ali AlYousefi - AGi architects
Full Disclosure: I worked in the Kuwait office of AGi architects for two years, and am still a member of the architects’ WhatsApp group!
Like most good stories, this one is long. We, Kuwaitis, love to live in villas. In the early fifties, the British firm Minoprio, Spencely & Macfarlane designed a master plan for Kuwait’s only major city, Kuwait City. The masterplan relocated nearly all the residents from their traditional mud courtyard houses in Kuwait City to newly constructed suburbs with modern concrete single family homes. The love story with the villas began. As the country grew, more suburbs were added to the periphery of Kuwait City increasingly further from the downtown area. This meant longer commutes and more congested highways, because most jobs, governmental institutions, and services were still located downtown.
Kuwait’s municipality tried to alleviate the problem by encouraging Kuwaitis to leave their beloved suburban villas and move into denser developments in the downtown area. The AlSawaber project (1981), a grand scheme designed by the famed Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, was an ambitious push towards that goal. But due to mismanagement, the project failed, and its resignation to a state of dilapidation became a symbol for the guaranteed failure of any future attempt to encourage Kuwaitis to live in denser typologies.
Fast forward thirty years or so, and Kuwait’s municipality is still planning the addition of more and more peripheral suburbs. Ask a Kuwaiti about what their preferred type of housing for living and raising a family and guess what the answer will be: single family home. But this is not feasible anymore. The building of new suburbs cannot keep up with population growth. Land prices have skyrocketed, and densification is only happening by subdividing villas into multiple apartments. It is clear to any reasonable observer that more dense typologies are the only way forward for a Kuwait where housing options are affordable and dignified. But the solution is not only a matter of construction, but of cultural adjustment.
AGi architects’ recent large-scale and high-rise projects, such as Wafra Living Complex, are showing signs of making this cultural adjustment, allowing for the proliferation of such high-density projects and daring a change in Kuwait’s future housing policies. This is why I nominate them for the Pritzker. Boom! Full circle.