On Friday, the Pritzker Prize issued their much-anticipated response to a petition to reconsider a decision many consider a sexist oversight: awarding their 1991 lifetime achievement award to architect Robert Venturi but not his wife and equally deserving partner Denise Scott Brown. Drafted by the Women in Design group at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the petition ended up garnering more than 17,000 signatures, including many well-recognized names in architecture: Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, and even Venturi himself. The Pritzker jury, comprised of one woman and seven men, rejected the appeals. (In somewhat more fate-of-humanity affirming news, the Internet is outraged.)
By way of explanation, the chair of Pritzker committee wrote: “A later jury cannot re-open, or second guess the work of an earlier jury, and none has ever done so.” He went on to offer a conciliatory note: “Let us assure you, however, that Ms. Scott Brown remains eligible for the Pritzker Award.”
Scott Brown herself believes the Pritzker response misses the intent of the petition, which was not to grant an award but to “recognize Denise Scott Brown for her work.”
And rightly so, as her work in Venturi and Scott Brown’s firm, Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, was highly influential. Known for breaking the minimalist trends of post-war modernism, Venturi and Scott Brown, in their controversial books, especially “Learning from Las Vegas,” changed the way many thought about commercialism and iconography in architecture.
“They owe me not a Pritzker Prize but a Pritzker inclusion ceremony,” said Scott Brown when asked to comment last March. “Let’s salute the notion of joint creativity.”
The rebuke is an outrage, but through this protest, Denise Scott Brown has at least gotten the public if not the formal recognition she deserves. And she knows it. In an Architect Magazine interview in April, she said, “My huge reward in life has been that clients of complex projects have trusted me with a design—and then it’s come out the way I intended it to be … I’m very proud. Another big reward now is that 4,000 [now 18,000] people have sent a petition and are expressing outrage. That’s a real big reward. That’s real validation—as important, at least, as winning the prize.”