Denise Scott Brown demands
Pritzker recognition

| 58 comments

Denise Scott Brown, photo by Frank Hanswijk

News: architect Denise Scott Brown has asked to be retrospectively acknowledged for her role in her husband Robert Venturi's 1991 Pritzker Prize.

Speaking in a pre-recorded address at an Architect's Journal Women in Architecture Awards lunch in London last week, where she was an honorary guest, Scott Brown said her exclusion from the prize was "very sad".

"They owe me not a Pritzker Prize but a Pritzker inclusion ceremony. Let's salute the notion of joint creativity," she said.

At the time the prize was awarded, Scott Brown had been a partner at the couple's practice Venturi Scott Brown and Associates for 22 years and had co-authored with Venturi the seminal 1970s text Learning From Las Vegas, which celebrated the garish iconography of the city's sprawling strip and confirmed the pair as leading theorists of postmodernism.

Denise Scott Brown, photo from Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

Above: Scott Brown outside Las Vegas in 1966; photograph from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown
Top: photograph by Frank Hanswijk

In her address, Scott Brown also warned women architects of the continuing fight against the glass ceiling and called on them to embrace their "feminist awareness".

"There are as many women as men in the early stages of architectural practice, but as they move up the ladder, the glass ceiling really hits.

"I say to young women today, don’t cast out your feminist awareness. When the glass ceiling hits you, you will think it is your fault unless you know a bit about feminism, and it will destroy you."

Robert Venturi, photo from Archive of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

Above: Venturi outside Las Vegas in 1966; photograph from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

The Pritzker jury has awarded a joint prize twice in its history – to Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron in 2001 and to male-female duo Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of Japanese firm SANAA in 2010 – but last year the prize was won individually by Chinese architect Wang Shu, who co-founded his studio with his architect wife Lu Wenyu in 1997.

Zaha Hadid, who in 2004 became the first woman to be named a Pritzker laureate, recently railed against "misogynist" attitudes in British architecture, saying: "I doubt anything has changed much over the last 30 years."

This year's Pritzker Prize was won by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, whose work includes the TOD’S Omotesando Building in Tokyo and Sendai Mediatheque – see all news about the Pritzker Prize.

  • imissyouhuno

    I think she has a point. When I started to study architecture, I learned first about Venturi in the academy, but it was later on when I found out who Scott Brown was and what she had to say. I think this issue she recalls is also in the classrooms where we learn architecture.

    I’ve always got a “who cares about the Pritzker?” in my mind, but this topic is of concern to me since my partner is a woman and she has told me now, “what if Scott Brown wasn’t a woman?”

    I don’t like to mess with gender issues because I find them so outdated and I can’t believe why some people still don’t try to work out these problems, yet on the Pritzker topic, I heard – I HEARD – that the Pritzker awards only one member, and
    this happened to Herzog where he was the one to be awarded but reclaimed de Meuron to receive the prize, as well as Seyima – she was the one and aked for Ryue to have the prize as well. So if this was true – which I will never know – the issue should be addressed to Venturi too.

  • Colonel Pancake

    I didn’t know you could just ask for awards.

    • Emma

      Give it to me, and I’m not even going to say please. Nice one DSB.

      • Feed Me

        Historical revisionism masquerading as feminism.

        • Rob

          How many years later… guess somebody didn’t learn anything from Las Vegas!

  • Dan

    Thanks a lot for PoMo! Liberated us all, just like feminism. Really. No seriously!

  • h.a.

    It is only fair! Gender issues are not outdated. I wish they were! This woman probably worked as hard as Venturi and never got recognition for that. There are so many similar cases like that.

    • nicey

      I’m not sure this prize, or any other for that matter, is awarded to someone who has “probably worked as hard as” someone else who has won it. Isn’t it about talent and verifiable contribution?

      I bought LFLV when it came out and found it a bit empty; attractive but empty.

      • h.a.

        How do you know that it wasn’t she who deserved the prize and not him? Maybe he was a mediocre architect lucky enough to find the perfect partner. It is striking how you assume the male is the talented one in the couple!

      • nasty

        Jeez, nicey, you really haven’t even fallen over the starting blocks of gender awareness.

  • Greg

    “I had employed historical reference as a way of analyzing, and learning. I did not propose imitating historical buildings.” – Robert Venturi.

    Certainly seems like if there’s no RV there’s no DSB. While sexism has kept many women back, let’s not rewrite history to be what it isn’t.

  • Hotte

    When I studied we started 50/50. When I did my diploma, 65% were female. If I look around today I have to search for women in architecture that do more than working for the office.

    Nearly all owners are men. People who decide to work normal hours or maybe part-time have no chance to get a good job and those people still are mostly women.

    A friend of mine who worked for a firm in Berlin became a father a few years ago and took 6 months parental leave (which is an option by German law). When he told his boss he said: “If you want to make a career in this company you better think once more.”

    He now works in a different company.

    Let’s change that!

  • A.Cronym

    Well, the Pritzker is a great prize paid by Hyatt Hotels – but what are the criteria? Utzon gets his prize close before death, others like Frey Otto are still waiting – Ito, Sanaa etc. are great architects, but there are some who are still alive who influenced for more than decades! Well, let’s see who’s next. I would vote for Frey Otto.

  • Lisa

    And this means exactly what?

  • Aaron

    I think a lot of these comment show a huge lack of understanding for the process of collaboration. Architecture has always promoted the idea of the lone genius, but in any close partnership it’s impossible to neatly separate out who was responsible for what – certainly impossible for an external panel.

    Ideas ferment and develop through dialogue, conflict, mutual support, and in a partnership this happens between people. I think it’s insulting that she wasn’t awarded the prize in the first instance.

    • michal

      “You never say thank you!” “That’s what money is for!” (Mad Men) Every creative process is collaborative to some extent. Some offices go for an uber-collaborative approach where even interns are asked and demanded to come up with ideas. Some are old fashioned and really the team only executes the idea. It is impossible to generalise the nature of every architect’s approach. And even in some very collaborative practices, like OMA, you can pick up one individual that is crucial to the originality and what the Pritzker is awarded for. Koolhaas might not design majority of the buildings there, but can you imagine the office being as influential without him? On the other hand, DSB is as crucial in the intellectual contribution as Venturi, yet only he is granted the fame, probably because he is more outspoken.

      Awards are what the public makes them to be. As stupid as I find the idea of turning art into some kind of sport, the community recognises Pritzker and it makes the prize glamorous. Which is okay, but truly, it distorts the perception of the diversity of the practice as it imposes one interpretation.

      The prize should be awarded very sensitively. Some architects are really the lone geniuses that should be awarded alone, yet in other cases the partners, even whole offices, should be awarded. This only shows how superficial the whole Pritzker thing is – they do not even do the basic research I guess.

  • JJK

    Many people are instrumental in the creation of a single building and they do not all get recognition. The prize was in recognition of the work of Robert Venturi. His collaborators, to whatever degree they have contributed, are not the point. The common thread in the projects is him, whether it was his work with Rauch or a graduate working for him, a cereal box that gave him an idea or Denise Scott Brown.

    • Nasty

      You really don't get it, do you? They were a partnership, not a single person. It sounds like you support the whole sexist machinery of architecture. Tragic.

  • Ken

    My architectural education rarely seperated Venturi from Venturi-Scott-Brown. This is a deserved honour that she should be recognised for.

    Good to mention that H&deM received the joint award. I could not imagine Tod Williams receiving the prize without Billie Tsien. It may be possible to say one is a better designer than the other (I wouldn’t agree), but the success of the whole cannot be designated to only one.

    It’s interesting that both Sejima and Nishizawa were jointly awarded – based on the limited publications and lectures I would say that she appears to be the design leader.

    But equal shame should be placed on Venturi and Wang Shu for not demanding their collaborative partners be included and honoured for their contributions.

    • susana campos

      That's an important point, in my opinion: the acknowledged partners should have been the first to step forward and maybe even not to accept the prize on their own, shouldn't they? Although having to live with sexism in your own home doesn't have to stop you from demanding parity from institutions.

  • bwd

    Waaa waaa waaa, I didn’t get it either.

  • gudrungudrun

    I want a Pritzker too!!! I really want one too!!! It would make me sooo happy!!!

  • salvatore

    Look, I worked for two Prtizker Prize winners.

    I designed some of their buildings but it was always clear that it’s only them who get the credit for it. And you know what? That’s okay. The one who owns the firm calls the shots, they can do whatever they want. They take the hit if something goes wrong and they get the award if it goes right. Just because you’re the wife of a great architect doesn’t make you a great architect too. Capice?

    • wmh

      Except that her name is also on the door at Venturi Scott Brown.

      • salvatore

        Her name is on the door because her husband put it there! And you and I know what he got in exchange. Without him she would be just another architect like thousands and thousands others who don’t deserve the Pritzker.

        • Why?

          You must be trolling. Nobody can be so ignorant.
          Capice?

        • Mr. Big

          Scott Brown wasn’t the only one who had been co-partner with Venturi, she was just the last. Maybe this has something to do with Venturi leaving the firm and her needing authority.

    • Jeremy

      Salvatore. Your level of ignorance and sexism is quite astounding. Denise Scott-Brown was the absolute equal collaborator. The name on the door is Venturi Scott-Brown. Bob Venturi was her husband. They both deserved the prize equally. Capice?

    • Peter M

      Have to say, I agree with Salvatore. I would also say that it is odd that women would want to aspire to a model of marrying in instead of Zaha Hadid’s example of doing it on your own.

  • http://famousarchitect.blogspot.com Conrad Newel

    I have been talking about this for a while. I am glad to see the discussion is starting to take shape:
    http://famousarchitect.blogspot.com/2012/02/82-li

  • http://www.zazous.co.uk Kate Austin

    You only have to hear the amount of hatred directed at the most successful female architect of all time, Zaha Hadid, to see how misogyny is still as rife as it was in the 50s. Women should “know their place” it would seem. Feminism is possibly even more necessary now that there is the illusion of equality in the workplace.

    • Peter S.

      Perhaps the “amount of hatred” against Zaha Hadid has less to do with her gender and more with people’s dislike of her architecture?

    • Zaha Gehry

      I hear the same comments made about Zaha that I hear made about Gehry. They’re both similar in their early genius and influence, and then continued recycling of old ideas. You can’t blame all negative criticism made of a woman on misogyny.

    • marco

      Zaha Hadid is equally critisized and praised as Frank Gehry and Santiago Calatrava are. It is rediculous and ironically sexist to discard criticisim by playing the gender card. In architecture names are like brands, we rarely imagine or know the actual person behind the work. I really do not think gender plays any role in this, I even think – at least it is my personnal experience – that gender has very little importance WITHIN the architectural world today (between architects, project architects, partners, owners).

      It might – however – play a role in the aquisition of projects, the interaction with clients, it might be harder to start your own office being a woman. The world of money and politics seems a much more classical one.

      • amsam

        You have to be blind to claim that Zaha is criticised and praised the same as Gehry. I don’t even love her stuff but it is frankly traumatising to see the level of hatred and vitriol that gets poured into this comment section every time her name is mentioned or her work is shown. Everybody else at least gets a debate. There’s no way it’s not about sexism.

  • Standpipe

    I see her point but why make a fuss now, 13 years later? Wasn’t the time to do it then?

  • JoshuaV

    Does Denise Scott Brown deserve to share the Pritzker with Robert Venturi? Yeah probably. But if so, then should Joshua Prince Ramus share the Pritzker with Rem Koolhaas? I’ve said for a while that the Pritzker should award firms, not individuals. It’s too messy to say who designed what, or who was more responsible. It’s a team effort to design a building. The team you assemble and put on a project is just as important as your own input.

    • salvatore

      I completely agree with you Joshua that you deserve the Pritzker. But not for working under Rem but for doing your own amazing stuff! I mean lets face it, Rem did not deserve the Pritzker because it’s pretty bad stuff that those boys are doing there at OMA.

      • JoshuaV

        Haha, I am not Joshua Prince Ramus. I’m just a young architect who happens to also have the name Joshua.

  • Caroline James

    We’re up to over 400 signatures in less than 24 hours, and it’s not even noon EST. Please sign a petition here to make your stance known:

    http://www.change.org/petitions/the-pritzker-arch

    Thanks.

  • studio

    Maybe their firm should be grateful for one undeserved award?

  • laura skeeters

    Her un-recognition was one of the lowest points in Pritzker’s history. I would be ashamed if I was the 1991 Jury’s President.

  • Colonel Pancake

    Why didn't Robert Venturi refuse to accept the Pritzker?

  • jonny

    In all the practices I have worked in in London there has been a strong female presence throughout from assistant up to director level. To my mind this is the face of contemporary practice.

    As far as Denise Scott-Brown goes, you can’t consider Venturi without her. It would be like Peter Smithson without Alison or Charles Eames without Ray. She should rightly be recognised for her contribution and should have been at the time.

  • marco

    For me, it has always been Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. All texts I’ve read have had both names as author, all references I’ve seen or made have been to the two of them. This is quite an extraordinary archievement, not only for a woman or a couple but for any parnership. To arrive to true equality between personallities in a partnership – where everyone has its own specialisms and ego – is one of the most complicated things to arrive at, and (perceived) asymmetry has to be one of the most predominant reasons for parnerships to end at a certain point.

    In this light it is very questionable why at the time Robert Venturi won the Pritzker Prize without even the mentioning of Denise Scott Brown. It is an artificial distinction between two people that arrived at the rare pleasure of being considered as equals.

  • Aharo

    Beware of precedent. Next thing you know, Daniel and Nina Libeskind will be DEMANDING the Pritzker Prize AND the AIA Gold Medal. I wouldn’t put it past them. They have no shame.

  • DarkMan

    There are a few things I don’t understand and should be answered. I’ll play devil’s advocate, even as a supporter of female architects (Maya Lin is my favorite designer of all time).

    1) What was the prize rewarding exactly? Robert Venturi was responsible for Complexity and Contradiction, the Vanna Venturi and much early work. DSB’s contribution begins six years later in 1970. If the prize is for the early groundbreaking act, then Venturi alone seems to be responsible. If it’s a full career work, then DSB could be included.

    2) Ada Louise Huxtable was on the jury. Why did she leave DSB off?

    3) What does Venturi think about this? Does it matter? Whose opinion matters?

    4) Does Maya Lin deserve a Priztker? (Yes)

    5) Was it disrespectful by DSB of Toyo Ito to campaign for this before his ceremony, effectively overshadowing him (thanks to the Twitterverse)?

    Just some politically incorrect questions.

    • Frank

      She is probably speaking up now that Robert Venturi is retired and probably mute.

  • Rebeca Ramos

    I think regardless of whether the prize is given ir not, there is a bigger issue being brought to light here. Collective and/or joint collaboration is the basis of architectural production, I would dare to say in most cases. The idolization of an individual should be balanced with the recognition of the skilled people who make it happen, or complement their talent. It seems architecture loves creating superstars.

  • Brendan

    Why is she looking for it now? Why didn’t she speak up in 1991 when the prize was given? Why didn’t Robert insist on sharing it with her then? Sounds like these two have some issues off camera that are just surfacing publicly now.

    • Emma

      Could not agree with you more, Brendan. This all seems very, very weird.

    • Sivad Bop

      1. She has spoken up before and is speaking up again.

      2. See 1.

      3. Bob did in fact, several times, refuse prizes based on her exclusion. One version of the story goes that VBSA had fallen on rougher times and needed the six-figure Pritzker purse from the prize.

      4. If they have issues, it’s with people like you and not each other.

  • Pat

    I get that architecture is more then one person, but the Pritzker seems to reward those who broke the mould – like in film, those are usually singular talents. Did Stanley Kubrick require collaborators? Yes, but his movies are his movies. Even the larger firms, SOM and such, require leaders to make the tough decisions. Usually those people are the singular figures who took the chance, who built that firm from nothing. Zaha Hadid did that. Denise Scott Brown joined an already existing firm. There is a difference.

    As for Venturi-Scott Brown, I think they were rewarding the original pioneer rather then the long time collaborator. Would she have joined Venturi if he had not already made waves? Probably not. Could she have become a success on her own? I guess we’ll never know. But she was clearly influenced more by Venturi’s new take.

  • The Realist

    I used to work under several women who would take credit for my ideas without thinking twice, then would run to the boss and claim credit. I’m sure that takes you to a certain level, but eventually the glass ceiling hits when you have to come up with the ideas yourself.

    I’m guessing this is why there are so few women architects, or comedians, or creative thinkers. Probably the same reason why this discussion even exists, because men are at a desk working on a design and a bunch of women are tweeting and starting petitions about female architects instead of doing the work. It’s a basic fact that women need food, water and compliments.

  • cmalliegro

    Your title is misleading – she’s not “demanding,” she’s requesting. “Demanding” implies she’s organizing some sort of formal protest/action and has shrill connotations, which is a tired sexist depiction of women who speak up for themselves. But from what you wrote, she was simply addressing her feelings (shared by many over the years) at an event at which she was being honored – hardly “demanding”. Are you purposely trying to sway the readers, or attract them with a sensationalistic headline, or was this a subconscious slight? Either way, shame on you, Dezeen – I expect a lot better of you.

  • nkratz2013

    I think it is in very poor taste for her to start complaining about this now. She is stealing the spotlight from Mr Ito who has worked his whole life towards this award. It is HIS time for the media’s attention.

    DSB needs to chill. Working in a “starchitect’s” office has its pros and cons… living in his/her shadow being one of them. We all know that Venturi wasn’t the only one working in his office, so wouldn’t the draftsmen and engineers that made all his work possible be equally entitled for some kind of credit?

    There are MANY other architects who would are more deserving of a Pritzker. DSB doesn’t make it to the front of that line.

  • Frau

    Many “-isms” are at times pseudonymous fallacies (relativism, structuralism, conformism, feminism). Such forced politically correct theories are unsustainable and only make us ladies fall into the chasm of zealotry and suspicion of men!

    Let awards, jobs, contracts be based primarily on meritocracy, NOT gender (be they women/men), lest we descend to glorifying under-achievement or mediocrity shrouded underneath our misogynistic interpretations: “I’m a lady therefore I automatically merit this or that… and I am always the victim”

    Playing the gender card is truly ridiculous and ironically sexist and really, gender has very little importance within the architectural world today and women should represent our campaign correctly.

    People should revolt against the feminist-driven demonization of boys and men, fighting the idea that specifically male behavior, and any degree of aggressiveness, are intrinsically bad and to be rooted out, says Karina.