Back in 1991 the Pritzker Prize was awarded to architect Robert Venturi. However, by not acknowledging Mr. Venturi's wife and partner Denise Scott Brown, the Prize failed to recognize his better half.
This narrow definition of the Prize, according to its own rules and customs, calling for a singular architect to receive the honor, now challenges its very relevance and legitimacy as the prize of prizes.
In fact, this conservative legacy continues into the present. In 2012 the jury granted the prestigious prize to Chinese architect Wang Shu without acknowledging who holds up "half the sky," as they say in Mandarin: his wife and co-partner, Lu Wenyu.
Would it be safe to say there are issues of sexism in architecture? Let's ask the women. Women? Would you say architecture has a problem with sexism that is deeply entrenched within the culture and that this goes all the way back through studio culture in architecture school? Well, there are two women laureates, Zaha Hadid and Kazuyo Sejima, so some progress is being made. Maybe someday women will also have the vote and earn equal pay for equal work. Imagine that!
Beyond this there is the nature of architecture itself as a collaborative, team-based profession. How can the Pritzker be relevant when it fails to comprehend the core of the profession it seeks to celebrate?
Now, Denise Scott Brown is a very busy lady. She lectures, teaches, gives presentations, participates in symposiums, curates exhibitions and generally flies around the world as one of the most recognized and accomplished architects of her generation. It's not like she's out pounding the pavement on the campaign trail for her Pritzker. In fact, this cause was taken up by two students at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James. They started a petition to have her officially included on her husband's prize, demanding that the Pritzker leadership recognize her achievements as co-partner and co-creator of the firm Venturi Scott Brown. She's been a co-partner for 22 years but has worked alongside Mr. Venturi as a co-creator for 30 years. Her name is on a majority of the firm's projects.
The language of the petition is simple and direct:
Martha Thorne - Executive Director, The Pritzker Architecture Prize
Keith Walker, The Pritzker Architecture Prize
Recognize Denise Scott Brown for her work in Robert Venturi's 1991 Pritzker Prize
According to a spokesperson for the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Mr. Thomas Pritzker himself has, "...taken it under advisement." What is there to take under advisement? He should immediately advise himself that this exclusion needs to be corrected immediately. After all, Mrs. Learning from Las Vegas has been extremely patient. In earlier reports the Prize organization shifted the blame onto the 1991 jury members. Well, 1991 jury, what do you have to say for yourselves? Are you taking it under advisement? Of course, most of them are deceased.
If the Prize cannot deal with this debacle with speed and directness, then it stands to reason that its relevance has slipped. It's no longer the only prize in town. It's time for a Pritzker re-boot if it wants to maintain its legitimacy as the prize of prizes. This means that its internal culture has to update itself to reflect the broader notions of equality that better our society and advance our culture, architectural culture included.
[A version of this article previously appeared on ArchDaily.com.]