The 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize was awarded to the Japanese duo, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. Their firm, Sanaa, is responsible for creating some of the most daring and elegant buildings of the last decade, including the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York (2007), and the 21st Century museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan.
The Pritzker, which has been called “the profession’s highest honor” and “architecture’s Nobel” is awarded annually to a living artist. The prize consists of one hundred thousand dollars and bronze medallions inscribed with the ancient Vitruvian saying, “firmitas, utilitas, venustas,” or ”firmness, commodity and delight.” The prize was founded in 1979 by Jay A. Pritzker and Cindy Pritzker of the Hyatt Foundation. The couple’s passion for architecture was deepened by their collaboration with designers and architects on the development of their signature hotel chain.
In addition to paying tribute to the honorees, the award ceremony provides architects and art world luminaries with a wonderful evening of art, food and conversation. Every year, the Pritzker is presented inside a different architectural wonder. In 1979, Philip Johnson, the award’s first recipient, was celebrated at Dumbarton Oaks, the gorgeous mansion turned museum in Washington, DC. Last year’s honoree, Peter Zumthor of Switzerland had his moment at the Legislature Palace of the Buenos Aires City Council.
This year’s ceremony was held on Ellis Island in New York. The jury honored Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa for producing what it called “architecture that is simultaneously delicate and powerful, precise and fluid, ingenious but not overly or overtly clever.” Each of Sanaa’s buildings is elegant, dynamic and acutely in tune with the purpose for which it was intended. The New Museum of Contemporary Art is particularly striking. The structure tower is built out of seven stacked rectangular boxes. Each segment is tilted off axis and supported by a central steel core. The entire building is covered in a pale grey skin made out of an aluminum mesh. The resulting tower is simple yet dramatic, contemporary but also timeless and monumental.
Despite its visual drama, the New Museum does not compete with the art it contains. The building provides wide, open exhibition spaces that allows for curatorial flexibility. Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa’s pragmatic, unpretentious attitude allows them to connect their buildings to the surrounding environments in profound ways. Bowery Street, on which the New Museum is located, is historically a bit on the seedy side. Upon close inspection, the building’s metal skin and edgy, minimalistic design echoes the toughness of the neighborhood.
Another of their projects, The Kunstlinie Theater & Cultural Center in Almere, Netherlands, is revered for the non-hierarchical, democratic quality of its design. Each of its workshops and classrooms offer views of the sea.
In their acceptance speeches, both architects spoke of feeling inspired and motivated by the honor. Kazuyo told the audience “with this prize I will continue trying to make wonderful architecture.” Nishizawa added “every time I finish a building I revel in possibilities and at the same time reflect on what has happened. Each project becomes my motivation for the next new project. In the same way this wonderful prize has given me a dynamic energy that I have never felt before.” Their 15 year collaboration has already produced numerous masterpieces. The honor is as much a celebration of these achievements as a vote of confidence in what they will show is in the future.