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The Pritzker Prize: An Overview

Laura Puttkamer

Everything you need to know about the Pritzker Prize and the winners of this and previous years.

In 2022, the Pritzker Prize was awarded to Francis Kéré. On the photo is one of Kéré's Projects, the Lycée Schorge Secondary School. (Photo: Francis Kéré)

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The idea behind the Pritzker Architecture Prize

The Pritzker Architecture Prize is an international prize awarded each year to a living architect or a group of architects for significant achievements. It was established by the Pritzker family of Chicago in 1979 through their Hyatt Foundation, which until today is responsible for the prestigious award.

The idea behind the Pritzker Prize is to honour contemporary architects “whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”

The award consists of a bronze medallion and a prize money of 100,000 USD. It is conferred during a ceremony held at an architecturally significant site throughout the world. The prize, which is also known as the Nobel Prize of architecture, is awarded “irrespective of nationality, race, creed, or ideology”. The medallion that comes with it has a Latin inscription inspired by Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius: “firmitas, utilitas, venustas” (firmness, commodity, and delight).

Currently, Manuela Lucá-Dazio is Executive Director of the Pritzker Prize. Nominations come from a range of architects, academics, and critics. They have to be handed in before November 1. The jury consists of five to nine experts.

The 2022 Pritzker Prize Laureate

In 2022, the Pritzker Prize was awarded to Francis Kéré, making him the first African architect to win the prize. Kéré was born in Burkina Faso. His work is highly esteemed across the world. He has worked not only in his country of birth, but also across Africa, Europe, and the United States of America. In his work, the 55-year-old often draws on his childhood, which was influenced by a strong sense of community. After studying in Germany, he fulfilled one of his dreams by designing an elementary school for his home village of Gando. This was his first building, completed in 2001. Many other buildings followed.

According to the Pritzker Prize committee, these are the questions that Francis Kéré answers in his work: “What is the role of architecture in contexts of extreme scarcity? What is the right approach to the practice when working against all odds? Should it be modest and risk succumbing to adverse circumstances? Or is modesty the only way to be pertinent and achieve results? Should it be ambitious in order to inspire change? Or does ambition run the risk of being out of place and of resulting in architecture of mere wishful thinking?”

This Year's Pritzker Prize Laureate Francis Kéré (Photo: Lars Borges)

Other Pritzker Prize Laureates

The inaugural winner of the Pritzker Prize was architect Philip Johnson, who won “for 50 years of imagination and vitality embodied in a myriad of museums, theatres, libraries, houses, gardens, and corporate structures”.

In 2004, architect Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the prize. Ryue Nishizawa won in 2010 and became the youngest architect to be awarded a Pritzker Prize at age 44. Several partners have been awarded the prize:

  • Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron in 2001
  • Kazuyo Sejima and Nishizawa in 2010
  • Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, and Ramón Vilalta in 2017
  • Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara in 2020
  • Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal in 2021

History of the Prize

The idea for the Pritzker Prize came from Jay and Cindy Pritzker, who wanted to encourage and stimulate a greater public awareness of architecture, while also inspiring more creativity in the profession. The name Pritzker comes from the family, which is known for its many international business interests. They are based in Chicago and own the Hyatt Hotels.

The Pritzker family has long been appreciated for their support of educational, scientific, medical, and cultural activities. Today, Jay and Cindy’s son Tom Pritzker is Chairman and President of the Hyatt Foundation. He said, “As native Chicagoans, it’s not surprising that our family was keenly aware of architecture, living in the birthplace of the skyscraper, a city filled with buildings designed by architectural legends such as Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, and many others.”

Many procedures and rewards of the Pritzker Prize are modelled after the Nobel Prize, such as the grant, the formal citation certificate, and the bronze medallion. Before 1987, winners received a limited-edition Henry Moore sculpture instead of the medallion.

The Pritzker Prize Ceremony

While the announcement of the Pritzker Prize winner usually takes place early in the year, in January or in February, the official ceremony is typically held in May. The choice of location reinforces the importance of the built environment and provides a unique setting for the ceremony, while paying homage to past architectural achievements or works by previous Pritzker laureates. The locations are usually chosen before selecting the laureate, which means that there is no connection between the two.

International guests and guests from the host country attend the invitation-only event, which consists of welcoming remarks from a dignitary of the host country; comments from the jury; the prize presentation by Tom Pritzker; and an acceptance speech by the winner.

In 2022, the ceremony will take place in London’s Marshall Building, designed by Grafton Architects. 2020 laureates Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara led the design. The Marshall Building is the largest ever academic building at the London School of Economics and Political Science. It was completed in 2021.

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