Robert Venturi joins call for Pritzker
to recognise Denise Scott Brown

| 19 comments

Robert Venturi

News: Pritzker Prize-winning architect Robert Venturi is backing a campaign calling for his 1991 accolade to be retrospectively shared with his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown.

Venturi follows a string of architects including Zaha Hadid and Farshid Moussavi to sign the online petition, which calls for Scott Brown to be recognised as a joint Pritzker Prize laureate and has already received over 3000 signatures.

"Denise Scott Brown is my inspiring and equal partner," writes Venturi, who had been working in partnership with Scott Brown at Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (now VSBA) for 22 years at the time of receiving the prestigious prize. While Venturi retired last year, Scott Brown still works at the practice.

Denise Scott Brown

The campaign follows an address made by Scott Brown (above) earlier this month, when she declared: "They owe me not a Pritzker Prize but a Pritzker inclusion ceremony."

The Pritzker organisers have already stated that the petition presents them with an "unusual situation". Martha Thorne, executive director of the prize's committee, told Architecture Magazine: "As you may know, the Pritzker Laureate is chosen annually by a panel of independent jurors. Those jurors change over the years, so this matter presents us with an unusual situation. The most that I can say at this point is that I will refer this important matter to the current jury at their next meeting."

The jury of the 1991 Pritzker Prize mentioned Scott Brown's contribution to Venturi's work in their citation: "[Venturi's] understanding of the urban context of architecture, complemented by his talented partner, Denise Scott Brown, with whom he has collaborated on both more writings and built works, has resulted in changing the course of architecture in this century, allowing architects and consumers the freedom to accept inconsistencies in form and pattern, to enjoy popular taste."

If the campaign is successful, Venturi and Scott Brown won't be the first architects to be receive a joint prize. In 2001 Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron shared the award, while male-female duo Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of Japanese firm SANAA became joint-laureates in 2010.

This year's laureate is Japanese architect Toyo Ito. The prize will be awarded at a ceremony that takes place on 29 May at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. See all news about the Pritzker Prize.

Photography is by Frank Hanswijk.

  • Gareth Reed

    Sad state of affairs when begging for a Pritzker Prize wins you one.

    Hopefully this madness stops soon. Changing history is never a good thing and it weakens the magnitude of the prize itself.

    This is as bonkers as expecting lecturers to teach students about mediocre female architects just to balance the score. This will weaken the equality argument and further push women away. Select only the finest examples of architecture (male, female or collaboration designed) and review their methods. Don’t shoehorn extra male or female examples into the curriculum just to meet a quota.

    • SebH

      I fully agree with you, Gareth. Supporting women (or other groups) is one thing, but pure tokenism is bonkers and doesn't help at all.

    • Aaron

      History is a fixed constellation of facts. It’s the way we narrativise the present and is in constant revision. I suggest you go and read a school textbook from the 1950s where you can learn about ‘inferior natives’, ‘the weaker sex’ and the glorious history of the European conquerors in South America and Africa. This may give you some insight into the value of revising history.

      I’m afraid women only get recognition in industries like architecture by demanding it and by pushing twice as hard as their male colleagues.

    • sss

      Yeah. I don’t know why anyone would want to mess with white-male-dominant history. So strange to ask for equal recognition or think that the profession may have advanced at all in terms of gender equality in the past thirty years.

    • Emma

      Someone looks like a beggar… did she not learn anything from Las Vegas?

  • Saif

    Why did Venturi ACCEPT the prize when he knew that Denise Scott Brown was an equal partner in his success?

    • Aaron

      And why did he leave it up to his wife to demand the recognition she so clearly deserves? I think it's rather sad that he's not the one leading the campaign.

    • paola

      Because he knew she was not an equal partner, that’s why he accepted the prize without her.

  • Where's Toyo

    Denise Scott Brown contributed a lot to the built work. She probably deserves to be added on to the original prize. However, I fear that these side issues are sucking all of the air out of the real architecture dialogue. Women clearly should have a larger say in the built environment, but what exactly will that voice say?

    Maybe that voice will only promote controversy, attention seeking, and self-image obsession. I sense that the media was bored with Toyo Ito and wanted a fight.

  • Garyg

    Denise Scott Brown deserves as many awards as can be bestowed on her. With that said I suspect she is taking a stand on the Pritzker not because she really wants it, it’s to make a point that both women and the collaborative process in general need to be understood and appreciated.

    • Garygriggs

      Read her writings, see the buildings. Few have added as much to the profession as the Venturis. Elevate the profession by giving credit to women and other collaborators. Laud Scott-Brown for her immense contribution to architecture and planning.

  • Rob Joyce

    I consider myself a reasonably feminine man and in touch with my softer side, which I believe has restricted me at times in my career. So I can fully understand all the women in architecture wanting recognition for their work, but we always get shouted down or pushed aside by bigger, stronger men.

    Hopefully the tides are changing and all the great architects get recognition (m or f).

    • Dan

      There are also pushy and difficult women in the work place. It's not about gender, it's character and personality.

  • gudrun gundula

    I heard terrible stories about how disfunctional Venturi's office was. With backstabbing and harrasment and cat fights and all that. I am not surprised that this happens right now when the old man can not really speak for himself anymore.

  • Nicole

    I think it's a bit sad that at her age Scott Brown needs the validation of a Pritzker to somehow give meaning to her life's work. She should have just left it to her peers (and her husband) to speak for her instead of showing how badly she wanted it. Ultimately, whether or not you won a prize isn't going to define you as an architect. History will vindicate Scott Brown whatever happens.

    It is interesting, though, why no one has bothered to ask Venturi why he accepted the prize without Scott Brown without a qualm. That speaks volumes.

  • Aaron

    Having read into the subject a bit more on other websites I am now not so sure that she fully deserves all the attention she is getting. Let me put it this way: “Should every draftsperson have a claim to the overall concept or design?” Need I say more.

  • Dan k

    Maybe the prize should be awarded to practices, not just the individual. This would save a lot of hot air. Alternatively, just get on with it, instead of chasing for the awards! That way maybe you will win one on your own terms rather than to have to share it with your husband.

  • Dan

    I think she could have made the point, given her fame. Without begging for an award! If this is what she wanted to do, then I agree with the intent, not the method.

    In many ways it makes herself look bad, as it seems she’s there for the recognition and awards, rather than the work and creative journey.

  • RNN

    The Venturis are grinding the patina off their stellar reputation. It has taken Venturi 22 years to recognise his wife as an equal recipient. That says a lot by this couple, their internal dynamics, and their ambition.

    Unfortunately, outsiders are using the Venturis as pawns to forward their own agenda and, in the process, making the both octogenarian Venturis look old and foolish for not speaking up earlier! There is no fool(s) like an old fool(s).