The Pritzker Architecture Prize was established by the Hyatt Foundation in 1979 to annually honor a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment that have produced consistent and significant contributions.
Celebrating the first decade of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, it is appropriate to honor two masters of modern architecture to whom the profession owes so much.The distinguished careers of Gordon Bunshaft and Oscar Niemeyer parallel the story of 20th century architecture. Using different palettes, following sometimes the same and sometimes different mentors, shaping their visions of the built environment in different hemispheres, they have brought new dimension to the art that the Pritzker Prize celebrates. Precise geometry and the flowing curve characterize their respective design approaches.
Both men represent the philosophy of modernism that has given form to the 20th century. A great debt is owed to these two men by their fellow architects as well as the public.
Ada Louise Huxtable on the awarding of the prize said: "A lifetime in architecture is both short and long. It is short enough to build a distinguished body of work that is clearly and unmistakably of its own time, with the strengths and weaknesses that this implies and long enough for the ideals and principles upon which that work was built to go out of style. It does not quite take a lifetime for tastes and beliefs to change. What does not change is the quality of the work and the passion and predictability with which the present rejects the very recent past.
"At a time when reputations are seesawing in and out of history, with the modernists heading the lists of outs, the selection of Gordon Bunshaft and Oscar Niemeyer for this prize may seem reactionary to some, a bow to nostalgia, or a rebuke to the new. To fly in the face of fashion, however, by honoring two modernist masters while criticism is focusing on the revealed flaws of the modern movement, is more of a radical than a reactionary act. By suggesting the need to reassess, rather than to reject, the philosophy and practice of the recent past, the intention is to make a revisionist gesture as much as to bestow an overdue honor."
Gordon Bunshaft is an architect of modest claims and significant deeds. When he states that he prefers his buildings to speak for him, he has chosen an eloquent mouthpiece. From the landmark Lever House in New York City to his crowning achievement in Saudi Arabia (illustrated), his 40 years of designing masterpieces of modern architecture demonstrate an understanding of contemporary technology and materials that is unsurpassed.
Perhaps no other architect has set such a timeless standard in the urban/corporate world, a standard by which future generations will judge this era, no doubt with acclaim, thanks to his abilities.
There is a moment in a nation's history when one individual captures the essence of that culture and gives it form. It is sometimes in music, painting, sculpture or literature. In Brazil, Oscar Niemeyer has captured that essence with his architecture. His building designs are the distillation of colors, light and sensual imagery of his native land. Recognized as one of the first to pioneer new concepts in architecture in this hemisphere, his designs are artistic gesture with underlying logic and substance. His pursuit of great architecture linked to roots of his native land has resulted in new plastic forms and lyricism in buildings, not only in Brazil, but also around the world.
Huxtable summarizes the awards by saying: "In the haste to move on to another century, we often fail to understand our own. It is appropriate to recognize a lifetime of work while the life, and the work, can still be celebrated."