Yesterday, Thomas J. Pritzker announced the 2011 recipient of the Pritzker Prize: Eduardo Souto de Moura, a Portuguese architect who worked for and with the only other Pritzker laureate from Portugal, Alvaro Siza. I’ve been reading the announcements of his selection and below is an excerpt from the official press release, along with a few thoughts.
“During the past three decades, Eduardo Souto de Moura has produced a body of work that is of our time but also carries echoes of architectural traditions. […] His buildings have a unique ability to convey seemingly conflicting characteristics — power and modesty, bravado and subtlety, bold public authority and a sense of intimacy —at the same time.”
Souto de Moura deserves praise, but what surprises me about this specific praise is its lack of specificity. You could cut-and-paste many other names in place of his and the quote would still be true: it’s like the jury was writing a letter of recommendation for Souto de Moura and recycling verbiage from the letter they wrote from Peter Zumthor, Sverre Fehn, Paulo Mendes de Rocha, or Alvaro Siza. Instead of a glossy press release, I’d rather see a transcript of the meeting where the jury sparred over who to select for the prize. Who made the strongest argument for Souto de Moura and who argued that the prize should go to someone else? Someone like Steven Holl, who is now officially (by the powers invested in me since you’re reading this), officially going to have to change his name to Steven Lucci.
This is where I have to mention that Souta de Moura is not particularly well-known outside of architecture circles. I have to mention it because almost everywhere else (LA Times, NY Times, World Architecture News, etc) has mentioned it. But he is known and well-respected among architects for good reason. A few places have read into Souto de Moura’s selection as a deliberate shift away from so-called “starchitects.” This is iffy, not only because, as Christopher Hawthorne points out in the great LA Times article, the jury for the prize can be unstable, but also because it precipitates two pretty pessimistic assumptions: (1) That the jury is more interested in sending a message to the profession than it is interested in examining evidence from the profession; (2) That something is wrong with architects who gain recognition for their work. It’s as if Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron and Frank Gehry (all Pritzker winners) have spent careers making meaningful contributions to architecture but we still reserve a special mistrust because of their successes. I tend to doubt that the jury is trying to prod professionals away from the center and toward the middle.
By his selection for the prize, Souto de Moura is now receiving more recognition than he ever has. That might not make him a celebrity, but it’s likely that (and I hope) he will enjoy a future with important and relevant commissions. Whether these commissions gain importance by their scale, the institutions they house, or his involvement with them will determine how we describe Souto de Moura as he joins a universe of architecture luminaries. No, he’s not a starchitect, but thanks to the jury he’s shining a little brighter.
Editor’s Note: TFIB reader David Renó pointed out this great video walk through of the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego in Cascais, Portugal. It’s nice to get a sense of the space through video.