The Pritzker Architecture Prize and the RIBA Royal Gold Medal have defended their diversity policies and addressed the reason why women make up just one per cent of the winners of the two leading architecture prizes combined.
"Sometimes looking at numbers does not mean anything," said Martha Thorne, executive director of the Pritzker. "We can't make decisions by ticking boxes."
"In the future there will be many more female winners," said former RIBA president Jane Duncan. "But we are now looking backwards unfortunately and there are some fantastic men that actually ought to be winning the Royal Gold Medal."
Together the two prestigious awards have been won just one time each by a sole women, compared to 202 times by men. There were five occasions when they were won by mixed-gender teams.
Desire to have diversity
Dezeen looked at the gender balance of winners of the world's four leading architecture prizes as part of our Move the Needle initiative.
The Praemium Imperiale has been won by a woman in seven per cent of years, while the RIBA Royal Gold Medal and the AIA Gold Medal have both been won by a woman on one per cent of occasions they have been awarded.
The Pritzker Architecture Prize does slightly better, with two per cent female winners.
"Ticking boxes is not what we do; we don't have a policy," said Thorne. "However, our jury is sensitive and aware of the whole gender issues in architecture.
"There is clearly a desire to have diversity and better gender balance within the jury in order to find a balance between the roles, the country of origin but we don't set numbers either."
The privately run Pritzker was founded in 1979 but has only been awarded to one individual woman: Zaha Hadid, who won in 2004. Two women have won the award alongside their male co-principals. Kazuyo Sejima, half of SANAA, received the award in 2010, while Carme Pigem became a laureate in 2017 when RCR Arquitectes won the prize.
Thorne added: "You have to look at the bigger picture, like the geographic diversity, people know architecture from different perspectives and all those perspectives need to be represented in a jury."
Pritzker Prize evolving
Thorne said that the Pritzker is evolving over time to reflect the way the world is changing. "Regarding the winners, the awards reflect time and place," she said.
"It's a reflection of the moment. Some years the winners can be seen as a statement in some aspects of architecture: the sustainability with Glenn Murcutt or a whole practice like last year" when RCR Arquitectes won.
Our survey revealed that the combined number of female winners of the world's four most respected architecture awards – the AIA Gold Medal, RIBA Gold Medal, Pritzker Prize and Praemium Imperiale – is two per cent. In total they have been awarded to men 303 times and women only five times.
Dezeen contacted all four prizes for comment on their gender diversity policies. However organisers of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal, the AIA Gold Medal, the Praemium Imperiale did not respond officially.
Awards "should be based on merit"
Ex-president of the RIBA Jane Duncan defended the Gold Medal's record at Dezeen's Must do Better talk hosted by RIBA earlier this week.
"I don't think we should be saying we've got to give people an award because they are a man or a woman. It should be based on merit," said Duncan, who was instrumental in ensuring that Zaha Hadid became the first and only individual woman to win the prize in 2016. "Let's just give people an award because they do wonderful things"
Duncan attributed the lack of gender diversity to the historic imbalance in the industry: "It's very difficult as the Royal Gold Medal is given for a lifetime achievement body of work, in the main. Fortunately we are now in an era where [gender balance] is changing and there are a lot more women."
Since is was first awarded in 1848, 164 men have received the Royal Gold Medal and only four women. Hadid is the only sole female recipient of the award, while Sheila O'Donnell, Patricia Hopkins and Ray Eames were all jointly awarded the medal along their with male counterparts.
In a break with tradition, the medal was awarded in 1999 to the city of Barcelona, rather than to a person. This means that cities have been given the accolade as many times as women.
The AIA Gold Medal has a slightly better record on gender. In its 110 year history, the medal has been awarded to two women. In 2014, Julia Morgan was the first woman to win the award, while Denise Scott Brown was jointly awarded the medal with her partner Robert Venturi in 2016.
Japan's Praemium Imperiale, launched in 1998, has had two female winners. These are Gae Aulenti, an Italian architect who won the prize in 1991; and Hadid, who received the accolade in 2009.
Below are award winners figures and statements for the four global awards we surveyed, listed in order of the percentage of female winners, from highest to lowest.
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Pritzker Architecture Prize
Female winners: 1 (2 per cent)
Male winners: 38 (93 per cent)
Mixed gender winners: 2 (5 per cent)
The Pritzker Prize is architecture's most prestigious award. It has been awarded annually since 1979 by the Pritzker family. In 2013 the prize's jury rejected a petition for Denise Scott Brown to retroactively receive recognition for the award that Robert Venturi, her husband and partner, won in 1991.
Statement: "Being a member of the jury depends on many criteria," said Martha Thorne, executive director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. "We can't make decisions by ticking boxes. Sometimes looking at numbers does not mean anything, you have to look at the bigger picture, like the geographic diversity, people know architecture from different perspectives and all those perspectives need to be represented in a jury.
"Some members of the jury are businessmen, some are academics, clients and they all bring different parameters. People have very different point of views and the diversity is important within the Pritzker jury.
"People that are on the jury panel come with an open mind, they don't have an agenda to push and they have to be committed, It's a lot of work and you need to find the right people. There is clearly a desire to have diversity and better gender balance within the jury in order to find a balance between the roles, the country of origin but we don't set numbers either.
"Ticking boxes is not what we do; we don't have a policy. However, our jury is sensitive and aware of the whole gender issues in architecture.
"Regarding the winners, the awards reflect time and place. The juries are independent people that make decisions to the best of their abilities.
"But there is a clear evolution. Prizes are evolving. Some years the winners can be seen as a statement in some aspects of architecture: the sustainability with Glenn Murcutt or a whole practice like last year with Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta.
"It's a reflection of the moment. It can be also the recognition of the work of someone. The prize is an art, not a science where you can tick a box.
Regarding architecture awards, we also have to look at how we evaluate people, how we judge. It's important to understand what we value: tolerance, collaboration. This is what we need to push for."
Female winners: 2 (7 per cent)
Male winners: 27 (93 per cent)
The Praemium Imperiale is an art prize that has been awarded by the Imperial family of Japan on behalf of the Japan Art Association since 1998.
Statement: The Japan Art Association could not be contacted for a statement regarding the gender balance of the Praemium Imperiale.
AIA Gold Medal
Female winners: 1 (1 per cent)
Male winners: 74 (97 per cent)
Mixed gender winners: 1 (1 per cent)
The AIA Gold Medal is the American Institute of Architects' highest accolade. The medal has first awarded in 1907. Julia Morgan became the first woman to win the award in 2014. The only other woman to win is Denise Scott Brown who was jointly awarded the medal with her partner Robert Venturi in 2016.
Statement: The AIA did not provide a statement regarding the gender balance of its Gold Medal.
RIBA Royal Gold Medal
Female winners: 1 (1 per cent)
Male winners: 164 (97 per cent)
Mixed gender winners: 3 (2 per cent)
The RIBA Gold Medal, the Royal Institute of British Architects highest accolade, has been awarded annually since 1848.
Statement: RIBA did not provide a statement regarding the gender balance of its Royal Gold Medal.