Denise Scott Brown Seeking Recognition In A Man’s World

Each year the Pritzker Prize is awarded to a living architect for an exceptional career, and the award is one of the most prestigious in the field.  In 1991, the honour was granted to Robert Venturi, a post-modern icon known for both his buildings and writings, most notably “Learning from Las Vegas” (1977).  Last week, at a luncheon for the AJ Women in Architecture, Denise Scott Brown, Venturi’s wife and partner, asked to be acknowledged retrospectively for her role in Venturi’s career and achievements.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize was created in 1979 “to honor a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which as produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”  The award includes $100,000 (USD) and a bronze medallion.  The laureates of the prize are unsurprisingly exceptional architects and include Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Mueron, Norman Foster, Tadao Ando, Oscar Niemeyer, to name a few.  Immediately apparent, however, is the complete underrepresentation of women – Zaha Hadid (2004) is the only female laureate.  Also, the winners are heavily drawn from the United States and Europe, but perhaps that is an issue for another time.

How is it, then, that Denise Scott Brown was overlooked in 1991?  Venturi’s practice changed its name to Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown in 1980, and in 1989 became Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, actively acknowledging the important role Scott Brown played as a partner in the firm.  The Pritzker Prize purpose statement implies that the award can be bestowed on just one architect, but the architect partnerships of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Mueron, as well as Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa (SANAA) were both honoured. VSBA is most noted for the Vanna Venturi House, the Sainsbury Wing of London’s National Gallery, and the Seattle Art Museum.

Scott Brown is not asking for a Pritzker Prize of her own, or even to be listed as an equal, but rather a “Pritzker inclusion ceremony” to “salute the notion of joint creativity.”  As a co-partner of VSBA and having co-authored the seminal text “Learning from Las Vegas” Scott Brown has been incredibly important in the development of architecture practice and architectural theory throughout the 20th century.  Sadly, it seems that her role as “wife” seems to be what the Pritzker jury saw in this remarkable woman, and the top echelon has remained the exclusive playground of men until Zaha Hadid made a few cracks in the field.  Since her speech, Denise Scott Brown has received quite a bit of support and many hope steps are taken to acknowledge her work.

 Words: Emily Sack © ArtLyst 2013

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