Los Angeles architect Thom Mayne, winner of this year's Pritzker Prize, has built his reputation on large-scale public and institutional buildings with striking, exuberant forms. One of his recent Southern California landmarks is the Caltrans District 7 building, headquarters of the California Department of Transportation. It has cantilevered upper floors and an illusive skin that changes in response to outside conditions, turning nearly transparent at dusk. Mayne, who founded his firm Morphosis in 1972, has done only a handful of houses. But he says they still represent one of the most valuable project types in their freedom to explore and invent. “I want to do houses, but I haven't had a house request in 10 years,” he says. “People perceive you as doing one thing.”

Pritzker juror Karen Stein, editorial director of Phaidon Press in New York, commented that the 61-year-old Mayne “sees architecture as a contact sport—a group activity that pushes physical limits,” and that his work has “consistently explored and expressed architecture as a risk-taking, visceral experience.” He has approached houses with that same iconoclastic attitude. His first large-scale residence, the Crawford house (1990), has no single focal point and no obvious front and back.

Mayne says he's interested not in an architectural style or status but in rethinking how to literally live in the land. “I'm really interested in the relationship of architecture and biology, which challenges the separation of building and land,” he says. Mayne, the first American to win the prize in 14 years, has also spent the past three decades as a theorist, author, and teacher. A tenured professor at UCLA, he helped found the progressive Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) before going on to receive a master of architecture degree from Harvard in 1978. At a ceremony last month at Chicago's Millennium Park, Mayne received a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion.