Robert Venturi won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1991. His wife and professional collaborator Denise Scott Brown was not recognized, sparking a controversy that has raged ever since. Following a recent round of petitions and editorials calling for a retroactive prize–or some form of recognition—the current Pritzker jury chair, Lord Peter Palumbo, sent a letter on the matter to two current students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James, organizers of the most prominent of the recent petitions.
Palumbo made it clear that no retroactive prize was possible: “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.” Palumbo left open the possibility of recognition for Scott Brown. “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.” Palumbo further acknowledged the context of the controversy: “We should like to thank you for calling directly to our attention a more general problem, namely that assuring women and fair and equal place in the profession.”
A Letter from the Chair of the 2013 Jury of The Pritzker Architecture Prize on Behalf of the Jury
June 14, 2013
Ms. Arielle Assouline-Lichten, Ms. Caroline James, Women in Design
Harvard Graduate School of Design
Cambridge, MA 02138
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.
Lord Peter Palumbo
Chair, On behalf of the Jury of the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize