Italian architect Pier Carlo Bontempi and Chinese preservationist Ruan Yisan last weekend received the highest honors in the world of classicist design—a school of though that AN previously examined alongside the more widely known Pritzker Prize.
The 2014 Richard H. Driehaus Prize went to Bontempi, an architect from Parma, Italy whose work includes a block recovery plan for that city’s historic center, as well as the Place de Toscane and the “Quartier du Lac” resort in Val d’Europe near Paris.
In a WTTW documentary made for the occasion of the award, Bontempi likened traditional and classical design to well-made salami and other local delicacies—modernists, Bontempi said, cut through the whole sausage, while those with an eye to the past are more careful in their preparation. He told the crowd gathered at the award ceremony Saturday in Chicago that he considered it a great compliment when a Dutch couple confused one of his buildings with a string of historic structures along the road to Rome, wondering why it wasn’t included in their guide.
Administered since 2003 by the school of architecture at the University of Notre Dame, the $200,000 Driehaus Prize “is awarded to a living architect whose work embodies the highest ideals of traditional and classical architecture in contemporary society, and creates a positive cultural, environmental, and artistic impact,” according to its website.
Ruan Yisan received the $50,000 Henry Hope Reed Prize, which is “given to an individual working outside the practice of architecture who has supported the cultivation of the traditional city, its architecture and art through writing, planning or promotion.”
Yisan, a historic preservationist and professor of architecture at Shanghai’s Tongji University, has helped catalogue and preserve numerous cities and cultural sites around China. He supervised the Yangtze River Water Towns preservation project, and won protection for the Pingjiang Historic District in his native Suzhou—both sites have since landed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
The professor, who turns 80 this year, told the award audience Saturday that the American remittance of funds paid after China’s 1900 Boxer Rebellion helped educate a generation of architects and designers who would sustain the nation’s architectural preservation movement through the 20th century. “It’s good karma,” he said through a translator. (Somewhat ironically, American designers and universities are also helping reshape contemporary China in a fashion decidedly more modern than that honored by the Driehaus Awards.)