Tuesday, March 29, 2011

75. Predicting The Pritzker Part I

In a few days from now (March 28, 2011) the Pritzker Prize Committee will announce the recipient of the 2011 prize. In anticipation of this momentous event, I have prepared a special note about the award.

If you are a starchitect with serious credentials working outside of the Americas, Europe or Japan and you are anxiously just sitting by the phone waiting for the Pritzker people to call you, first of all relax. I am about to show you why you should.  

The Pritzker’s self-defined purpose is summed up in the following statement:

"To honor a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture"

I will first take issue with the underlined phrase significant contributions to humanity  as significant is a relative word here: what is significant here is based on what is significant to a small group of like minded individuals in the upper echelon of the western world.

Contributions to humanity? how has the buildings of the past laureates contributed to humanity? Humanity? Okay maybe I have the wrong idea of what humanity is. Lets consult the dictionary.

  1. all human beings collectively; the human race; humankind. [nope, can’t be that, this prize is certainly not considering all humanity. Just the western world me thinks]
  2. the quality or condition of being human; human nature. [not this either]
  3. the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence. [okay, okay, maybe Norman Foster did it as seen here, but what about the rest?  If this were the case, wouldn't have someone like Cameron Sinclear been on the laureate list a long time ago?]

Maybe, they meant “the humanities” as defined below:

literature, philosophy, art, etc., as distinguished from the natural sciences.
the study of literature, philosophy, art, etc.

The prize is awarded irrespective of nationality, race, creed, or ideology. Nominations are accepted internationally from persons from diverse fields who have a knowledge of and interest in advancing great architecture.

If the prize is given irrespective of nationality, race, creed, or ideology why does the make-up of recipients not reflect that?

  • 73% Caucasian?
  • 17% Japanese?
  • all the other races combined 9%?

See Charts below:

Though they did not mention gender its interesting to look at the gender break down as well:

Age was not mentioned but also an interesting perimeter, the average age is 63:

Regardless of ideology?, well unless you are responding or relating to modernism in some way, you are not getting the Pritzker.

If nominations are accepted internationally from persons from diverse fields then I would imagine that the nomination pool would reflect that as well. If the nomination pool is wide and diverse and the results are homogeneous, then what does this say about the jury?

Well don't just make cruel and baseless assumptions. Lets take a look.

The independent jury of experts ranges from five to nine members. Jury members serve for multiple years to assure a balance between past and new members and are entrusted with selecting the laureate each year. No members of the Pritzker family or outside observers are present during jury deliberations which usually take place during the first months of the calendar year. The jury members are recognized professionals in their own fields of architecture, business, education, publishing, and culture.

Combining the 9 current members together with all the past members as listed on their website to date: March 2011, the jury make-up is as follows:

  • 88.2% are Caucasian and male
  • 11% are Japanese-Asian (all Japanese-Asian members were male as well)
  • 11.8% were female
  • To be fair, there was one non-Japanese Asian [Le Corbusier’s former apprentice in India Balkrishna Doshi], and he accounted for 2.9%

maybe a more accurate mission statement would have been

"a living architect, preferably a Caucasian or Japanese male, whose built work relates to modernism, demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture"

Otherwise, they would be statistically saying that South Asia, the Middle-East, or Africa have not produced any architects that demonstrate the qualities of talent, vision and commitment in the past 32 years.

With the exception of I.M. Pei, no architect outside of the Americas, Europe or Japan have produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture?

Is that so?


Lets break it down by country:
God Bless America!

By Region:
Viva Europa!

The official ceremony granting the award takes place every year, usually in May, at an architecturally significant site throughout the world. The choice of location of the ceremony reinforces the importance of the built environment while providing a unique setting for the ceremony. The presentation ceremonies move around the world each year, paying homage to the architecture of other eras and/or works by previous laureates of the prize. As the ceremony locations are usually chosen each year before the laureate is selected, there is no intended connection between the two.

This is a map of the cities that have hosted the ceremonies so far

Here are the percentages:
  • 54.5% in North America
  • 33.3% in Europe
  • 6.1% in the Middle-East
  • 3% in Central America
  • 3% in North East Asia

Statistically speaking the committee has yet to find an architecturally significant site in the following regions of the world:
  • Africa
  • South-Asia : Indonesia, India, the Koreas, etc
  • Central/Western-Asia: China
  • Australia

Other gaping disproportionalities:
  • only one architecturally significant site in all of South America
  • 6 in Washington DC and 5 in Chicago alone

Although I can not say with all certainty, the trend suggests that initially the plan was to have the ceremony in Washington DC, but after three years it started to move around within the borders of the United States.  In 1986, for the first time the venue was hosted abroad in London, and a few years after that a loose pattern started to develop whereby the venue is rotated between the US and Europe. Last year, the venue was hosted in New York, so there is a reasonably good chance the next venue will be somewhere in Europe or another location abroad.
My Predictions:
This week we are most likely to see a caucasian male architect win the prize. He will most likely be an European, around the age of 62.97. His work will most likely have been strongly influenced by modernism, and he will most likely be presented the award somewhere on the European continent.

Conrad Newel.
Liberating Minds Since August 2007


Friday, March 25, 2011

74. Work for Rem Part II: Behrens vs Koolhaas

Do you believe Le Corbusier is a genius and a God among architects? Do you believe that he is a prophet sent from the architectural heavens to show generations to come a new way, and that there will be no other like him as there was no other like him before? Do you just know in your heart that Mies van der Rohe knows more about steel and the art of putting a fine building together than any architect alive today can ever dream of? Then I suggest you stop reading now, close this browser, hit the back button or better yet exit here, because reading any further will only upset you.

Are you still here? Well I will assume that you are either an architectural atheist or a glutton for punishment.

The inevitable problem with the Corb-faring architects is that the minute you start discussing or comparing Corb, Mies, Wright, Kahn or who ever the deity of worship is, with any living star-architect you commit blasphemy.

Do you have a friend like that?
...sure you do.

Next time you see them, try this experiment:
Just walk up to them and start comparing Mies to say Jean Nouvel. Then just watch the veins in their neck swell to ripe pulsating tubes under their skins, you will notice their faces start to get red, their nostrils will flair and their eyes start to twitch.

“No way!... no way!
...there is no way you could compare Jean Nouvel to Mies van der Rohe!
How dare you!”

they will likely sputter out, followed by a laundry list of reasons why Jean could never measure up to Mies.

“Mies was a true genius!!!”

Its as though you have asked something ridiculous as “who would win a fist fight between Jesus Christ and Rev. Jesse Jackson?”

Well I am gong to do just that today right here on this blog. I am going to compare Peter Behrens to Rem Koolhaas and the former employees of Behrens (Le Corbuser, Mies Van der rohe, Adolf Meyers, Walter Gropeus etc) to the former employees of to Rem  (Zaha, Bjarke Ingels, Winey Maas, etc ). May God help me.

Okay, the first and most obvious point of similarity between Koolhaas and Behrens is in their tremendous influence on architecture.  They both related to the profession in such a way that quite a few people who have worked under them have managed to successfully replicate their influence or surpass them.  Behrens for example had Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe , and Le Corbusier among others working for him before they went on to open their own firms and go on to have a profound impact on architecture that can be felt up to this day. You only have to look on this poster I posted in part one of this series to see how influential Koolhaas is today. The list of influential architects that have worked at his office includes, Zaha Hadid, MVRDV(Winey Maas & Jacob van Rijs), Bjarke Ingels, REX (Joshua Prince-Remos & Erez Ella) among many, many others. I would argue that he has even surpassed Behrens in this area in some respects. While the individual firms that came out of OMA may not be as influential as the ones that came out of Behren’s office, the quantity is staggering. One could argue that the difference can be summed up in the expression “quantity vs quality”, but keep in mind, the story of Koolhaas’ generation’s influence is still unfolding. A fair comparison can only be made maybe 100 years from now.

Who knows, perhaps several decades from now we may have Bjarke Ingels manifestos and monographs becoming akin to biblical scriptures, required reading for architecture schools around the world, and architects and students alike making annual pilgrimages to his poorly aged buildings saying “wow! I can’t believe I am actually here! I have goosebumps on the back of my neck” .

Okay, snap out of it!

The second point of similarity is in the kind of architects both Koolhaas and Behrens were: the way they approached architecture and the scope of projects that they took on. Both of them were working inside and outside the traditional boundaries of architecture, specifically with branding. For Behrens, we can this in his work for the AEG electric company. Not only did he design the company’s buildings he also designed and developed their entire corporate identity and branding strategy: the hexagonal logo, its catalogs, its office stationery, product design, publicity strategy, etc.  In fact he was credited with the creation of the concept of corporate identity branding itself and directly influenced corporate identity giants such as Braun, McDonald's and even Ikea today.

Koolhaass has done similar. He is well known for his building projects, but he is also branching out into territories outside of architecture and into corporate identity and branding as well. He has structured this parallel venture by developing the think tank firm AMO. AMO has been described as a venture exclusively dedicated to the investigation and performance in the relm of media. Its primary function is to deal with issues that goes beyond architecture’s definition of making buildings.  One of their most well known commission for instance is the design of a new European Union flag in the style of a bar-code incorporating the colors of the member nations.

We can attribute some the similarities between the two to their similar educational backgrounds. Both were trained in media & communication related studies before going into architecture. Behrens, studied at several art academies in Germany and thereafter worked as a graphic artist in Munich. It was not until after nearly a decade of working as a graphic and industrial designer before he was commissioned to design his first building.

Koolhaas studied at the Netherlands Film and Television Academy in Amsterdam, and then took up journalism as a career before ever attending any architecture school.

The significance of a communications and media background becomes visible when contrasted against the dysfunctionlaity of conventional architectural education.
Architecture schools (both historically and presently) are concerned with studying the starchitects of the past and trying to emulate them, while communication and media studies are concerned with studying and understanding the state of the present and its media and figuring out how to communicate with it.

When architecture schools are producing architects with an extra-reverent view of the past and myopic outlook on the present, it isn't so difficult to see how Behrens and Koolhaas with their communications backgrounds would have a distinct advantage over architects educated in this manner.

While most starchitects have a Sarah Palin-like relationship with the media (ie. the media is the enemy, a necessary evil that distorts your message with snippets and is suspect at best), Koolhaas and his starlets (especially Bjarke Ingels) have a more Obama-like relationship with it (ie. they embrace it and use it as a tool to advance their influence).

So, there I said it. I compared mortals to Gods. You can post all death threats in the comments section below or forward them to me via email in the form-mailer on the upper right hand corner of this page.

But seriously. What does this say? Where does this bring us?

For one thing, it says that if influence is something you value as an architect, then having an up to date understanding of media and communication is key. It also speaks about what is lacking in architectural education.

My advice? Don’t wait for architecture school to teach you how to achieve the enormous goals that they place in front of us. Equipping ourselves with the tools to do so has to be our responsibility. Though by no means am I suggesting that  an understanding of media and communications are magic pills to stardom, it is certainly a key part of the puzzle. 

Conrad Newel.
Liberating Minds Since August 2007