As you probably know, architecture is one of my passions. Nearly limitless in its possibilities, architectural design surrounds us and influences every part of our lives, from the high rises of the metropolis, to impossibly gorgeous estates, to cottages, bungalows, gazebos, and follies.
Each year, the Pritzker Architecture Prize is awarded to “a living architect or architects 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.” Often referred to as architecture’s Nobel Prize, the Pritzker is both a monetary award and a tremendous professional honor.
Since it was first awarded in 1979, the Pritzker has recognized just five women among its 48 laureates. Like their male peers, these women are visionaries of the first order. Here is a bit about each of them:
The first woman to be awarded a Pritzker Prize, in 2004, Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) is known for her daring and dramatic structures. With their sweeping lines, intersecting curves, and cantilevered planes, these buildings seem to defy gravity. They may also introduce extremely diverse elements, such as her design for the Port Authority building in Antwerp, Belgium, completed in 2016. Hadid’s memorable design incorporates a large, renovated fire station building and an enormous overhead futuristic wing. Since her sudden death, Hadid’s London firm, with a staff of 400, continues to build upon her legacy.
Recognized in 2010 along with partner Ryue Nishizawa, Kazuyo Sejima creates modernist structures of cubes and curves, often incorporating reflective, translucent, or transparent materials. With the bulk of the Sejima’s realized work in Japan, the firm (SANAA – Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates) is best known in the U.S. for their design of the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, the New Museum in New York, and the serpentine River Building at Grace Farms in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Carme Pigem was honored in 2017 along with her two partners in the Spanish firm RCR Arquitectes. Their work, which is highly collaborative, includes museums and cultural centers, schools, sporting facilities, outdoor spaces, and residential structures, many inspired directly by the topography of northern Catalonia. To date, they are the only three-person firm to be recognized with the award.
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara
Awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2020 (the Prize’s first female duo), Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara met during their studies at University College Dublin and founded their firm, Grafton Architects, in 1978. They have both held the Louis Kahn Chair at the Yale School of Architecture and the Kenzo Tange Chair at Harvard Graduate School of Design, among many other appointments and honors, and in 2018, they served as co-Curators of the Venice Architecture Biennale. A collection of their drawings and models is held by the Museum of Modern Art. Working primarily in a contemporary idiom, their designs are notable for stark volumes that give way to luminous interior spaces. They design with a strong sense of social responsibility and a “conviction that architecture is now the new geography.” They are known for their frequent design work on educational institutions, and in particular, the campus of the University of Engineering and Technology in Lima, Peru, which was recognized with the Silver Lion award at the 2012 Venice Biennale.
A hearty congratulations to these extremely talented architects and their outstanding organizations! Hopefully many more talented women will be recognized in the future!!