Denise Scott Brown petition for Pritzker
recognition rejected

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Pritzker jury rejects Denise Scott Brown petition

News: the Pritzker Prize jury has rejected a petition for architect Denise Scott Brown to retroactively receive recognition for the award that her husband and partner, Robert Venturi, won in 1991.

Chair of the Pritzker Architecture Prize Lord Palumbo has responded in a letter to the Harvard students who started the online petition, saying that the way the jury is organised prevents it making retroactive awards.

"Pritzker juries, over time, are made up of different individuals, each of whom does his or her best to find the most highly qualified candidate. A later jury cannot re-open, or second guess the work of an earlier jury, and none has ever done so," he wrote.

The letter adds that Scott Brown is not disqualified from receiving the prize in future: "Ms. Scott Brown has a long and distinguished career of architectural accomplishment. It will be up to present and future juries to determine who among the many architects practicing throughout the world receives future awards."

Read the full letter posted by Architectural Record here.

Women in Design, a student group at Harvard Graduate School of Design, set up an online petition in April calling for Scott Brown to be recognised as a joint Pritzker Prize laureate with Venturi, and it was quickly signed by a string of high-profile architects including Zaha Hadid and Farshid Moussavi, and Robert Venturi himself.

The campaign followed an address made by Scott Brown earlier in the same month, when she declared: "They owe me not a Pritzker Prize but a Pritzker inclusion ceremony."

Scott Brown, 81, had been a partner at the couple's practice Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (now VSBA) for 22 years when Venturi was awarded the prize, which is considered the most prestigious in architecture. She co-authored their seminal 1977 book Learning From Las Vegas and still works at the practice while Venturi, 87, retired last year.

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.

See all our stories about the Pritzker Prize »

Read the letter from the Pritzker chair below:


Dear Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James,

Thank you for sending your petitions and letters, and those of others, about Ms. Denise Scott Brown and the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Insofar as you have in mind a retroactive award of the prize to Ms. Scott Brown, the present jury cannot do so. Pritzker juries, over time, are made up of different individuals, each of whom does his or her best to find the most highly qualified candidate. A later jury cannot re-open, or second guess the work of an earlier jury, and none has ever done so.

Let us assure you, however, that Ms. Scott Brown remains eligible for the Pritzker Award. That award is given on the basis of an architect’s total body of built work. Ms. Scott Brown has a long and distinguished career of architectural accomplishment. It will be up to present and future juries to determine who among the many architects practicing throughout the world receives future awards. Not every knowledgeable observer always agrees with the jury’s selection. But the jury will continue to do its best to select solely upon the basis of the quality of the architect’s record.

That said, we should like to thank you for calling directly to our attention a more general problem, namely that of assuring women a fair and equal place within the profession. To provide that assurance is, of course, an obligation embraced by every part of the profession, from the schools
that might first encourage students to enter the profession to the architectural firms that must facilitate the ability of women to fulfill their potential as architects. We believe that one particular role that the Pritzker Jury must fulfill, in this respect, is that of keeping in mind the fact that certain recommendations or discussions relating to architectural creation are often a reflection of particular times or places, which may reflect cultural biases that underplay a woman’s role in the creative process. Where this occurs, we must, and we do, take such matters into account.

Your communications remind us of this obligation, and we appreciate your sending them. Insofar, however, as they ask us to reopen the decision-making process of a previous jury, we cannot do so.

Yours sincerely,

Lord Peter Palumbo, Chair,

On behalf of the Jury of the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize

  • Chris

    “Saying that the way the jury is organised prevents it making retroactive awards.”

    Yes, a patriarchal organisation would prevent such a decision.

    • Don

      Note to self: lesson I didn’t learn from Las Vegas… don’t go asking for awards, it’s not going to end well.

  • Muschio

    Pathetic.

  • joe

    You would think that people wound stop saying “and none has ever done so” because well… it makes you seem like you think the world is flat and that the impossible is real. What “we” are asking for is recognition… not cold fusion.

  • dan

    Awkward… now even if she gets one in the future (I doubt..) it would feel more like a pity prize, than for all the good work she did before. Good lesson here, don’t ask for a prize, work for it, and if people don’t give you a prize for it? You win anyway, the prize is the work, creative process, interesting journery, design exploration, etc… not a medal or public flattery. Love it for the work not the trophies!

    • christine

      Well if you know the work of Venturi and Scott Brown, you would understand that she deserved the prize as much as he did. The architectural profession, and 50 years of academics owe this lady a lot more than even a trophy, they owe her their ideas, concept and way of working and understanding the city.

      • Concerned Citizen

        If you had read the jury's original decision, you would know that your statements are not true.

    • Underwhelmed

      We ain’t asking for a prize foo, just retroactive inclusion and recognition.

      I can see how things like slavery would have never been abolished if you were on the committee… “Why, it would be awkward to abolish it..”

      • Dan

        Slavery is not the same as “retroactive inclusion and recognition” for a prize. Please have some perspective on the matter! It’s an insult to all the people, both present and past, who died or suffered from slavery! What a shame!

  • me

    Yes certainly they should treat past jury decisions with respect. Yet this one was coloured by sexism, no other way to see it. Why not put right the wrong of a bygone, and less open era? As it stands now it’s simply evidence their attitudes are still mired in the past. They’ll no doubt give prizes to lots of women from here on in but this wrong is yet to be righted. Shame on them.

    • Concerned Citizen

      Why do you make such an unfounded accusation? Read the original statement from the jury, and stop rationalizing post mortem.

  • zizi

    What a good chance this was to make an exception to a rule.

    • Concerned Citizen

      Without reason. The committee would have been giving in to current whining over a decision made long ago.

  • Blake

    Where was she when the original was awarded? A late grab for glory, even if she was the brains behind the team. Why mar the past in this way? And what is the Pritzker anyway, as only a few real architects such as Barragan and Zumthor have ever deserved it.

    • christine

      You know nothing Blake!

    • Concerned Citizen

      That's exactly right.

  • Colonel Pancake

    If Denise Scott Brown really deserved it, Robert surely would have recognised that and demanded her recognition in the first place before accepting it. That’s where her blame should have gone all along. It’s not like post modernism deserves an award anyway.

    • Concerned Citizen

      Yes, and now she can say anything about that, now that he's unable to speak for himself.

      This is the worst case of sour grapes I have ever seen.

  • Matt

    At 81, you’d think she’d drop the ego trip. Some architects just want to make a living.

    • Concerned Citizen

      My thoughts exactly. She’s embarrassing herself and shaming the entire profession with her over-loud whining, decades after the fact. Whatever happened to decorum?

  • Astrid

    1. You can’t change the past. Venturi should have either turned down the prize or insisted that she be added. He accepted the prize and the money. Sell out?

    2. And what about his other collaborators: John Rauch and Steve Izenour?

    3. Finally, does the DSB campaign signal the return/triumph of post modernism?

  • Robert_Paulson-1

    DSB is a fine architect, and I think she is deserving of some recognition, even her own individual Pritzker for her substantial contributions to the field.

    I think the Pritzker committee made the correct decision here, however.

    1991 was hardly the dark ages, and the 1991 Pritzker jury, which included the non-shrinking-violet Ada Louise Huxtable, made a pretty clear-cut and defensible argument for why it chose to recognize Robert Venturi individually.

    Robert Venturi was the sole author of the canonical book ‘Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture,’ and it was published before Denise Scott Brown joined Venturi’s firm.

    Denise Scott Brown played no role in Venturi’s ground-breakingly post-modern “Vanna Venturi House,” which the Pritzker Jury specifically called attention to.

    Also, for some reason, in the discussion of the supposed injustice done to Scott Brown, there has been little discussion of John Rauch who was a partner with Venturi from 1964-1989 (Scott Brown professional partnership with Venturi began in 1969). If Scott Brown deserves credit for Venturi’s achievements, then certainly Rauch should be a part of the conversation, too.

    It’s fine to consider the 1991 Pritzker jury to have been in error. All of their decisions outside of a notable few have been debatable. A broad brush criticism of “sexism” (which literally could be applied to every Pritzker award ever given) seems insufficient, however, to reverse the jury’s decision. The focus on including Scott Brown in the 1991 prize has simply served to minimize Scott Brown’s own accomplishments and contributions. My understanding is that she’s been the dominant force in VSBA for easily the last 20 years, in addition to her substantial theoretical contributions, and her mentorship of multiple generations of female (and male) architects.

    Denise Scott Brown deserves her own Pritzker, but she does not deserve Robert Venturi’s.

  • vincent

    This reeks of political correctness gone wrong. The wrong kind of feminist activism.

    • fraperic

      Unfortunately, this reeks of a bunch of try-hard Harvard girls thinking they know better than the jury of architecture's most prestigious award and want to make a name for themselves.

      • james

        Why try to diminish the work of students speaking up for once in this profession? They are just trying to make better conditions for women and all architects working together. It takes courage. You are just a hater, fraperic. Get over yourself.

        • Concerned Citizen

          These actions benefit no one, and least of all women. It makes them appear as a lot of after the fact loud whiners.

  • jon

    The Pritzker is a joke anyway of pretentious ivory tower architects who come up with basic conceptual designs for high priced commissions made possible only by engineers. That this is considered the most pretigious award in architecture shows how out of touch the profession is.

  • dan

    This news has drawn my curious mind back to VSBA’s works. I read the books when I was a student. Interesting and ironic ideas. But checking out their recent works… I must say it was really disappointing. Never really been a fan of PoMo Architecture, and its has confirmed my dislike for PoMo even more. This is supposed to be good PoMo, not the s*** copies all around the place. I think they should get a literature prize for the interesting books they have written, but not the architecture. It also shows interesting ideas are not always good ideas or appropriate ideas.

  • James Mackie

    I adjusted and fixed Usain Bolt’s running spikes before he won gold. I think I should be awarded a retrospective medal too. If anyone has contacts in the Olympic circle, please put this idea forward to them.

    • Charlie

      Please be aware that you are a misogynist, in case you were under the impression that you are not.

  • fraperic

    I’m going to start a petition to get Steven Izenour some sort of award.

  • Hammibale

    This problem, and others like it, could easily be avoided if all juries were instructed to give EVERY prize and EVERY award to Daniel and Nina Libeskind, as this pair of self-described geniuses believe they are due.

  • Rosario Gagliardi

    Postmodernism was a poor attempt to elevate Modernism (the brash uncultured child of architecture) to the status of Classicism, the most refined period in the history of architecture. If you ask me, neither Robert Venturi OR Denise Scott Brown deserve the Pritzker Prize.

  • Captain Kirk

    Am I the only one who has noticed that no Klingon has ever won the Pritzker Prize? Is there an anti-alien prejudice among the jurors?