Credit: Frank Hanswijk


The Pritzker Prize jury announced Friday that it would not re-open the case of Denise Scott Brown, FAIA, putting an end to months of speculation that she might be honored retroactively. In 1991, Scott Brown's husband and design partner, Robert Venturi, FAIA, was awarded the Pritzker—a decision that has long been criticized in architectural circles since it failed to recognize the work of his long-time partner in the firm Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. 

The decision was announced via a letter issued by Peter Palumbo, who serves as chair of the Pritzker jury, which this year includes architects Alejandro Aravena, Glenn Murcutt, Hon. FAIA, and Juhani Pallasmaa—the latter two of whom are laureates themselves.

The decision was reached in Philadelphia, to which Scott Brown said that the Pritzker jury misunderstood the intent of the petition. "It doesn't say they should give me an award," she says. "The petition merely states that my work be 'acknowledged.' " She adds: "You can't change history, but you sure can comment on history. Think of all the comments on Nazism. We certainly retroactively critiqued those statements. What has [Palumbo] got against critiquing something done by a jury 20 years ago?"

"Pritzker juries, over time, are made up of different individuals, each of whom does his or her best to find the most highly qualified candidate," the letter reads. "A later jury cannot re-open, or second guess the work of an earlier jury, and none has ever done so." Numerous members of the jury that issued the prize to Venturi have since passed away, including architecture critic Ada Louise-Huxtable, National Gallery of Art director J. Carter Brown, and Italian industrialist Giovanni Agnelli. The Pritzker committee declined a request for an interview related to the matter. (See the full letter from Palumbo below.)

Palumbo's letter was addressed to Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James, two students at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design who launched a petition in March to have Scott Brown belatedly recognized. The petition, to date, had garnered more than 17,000 signatures, including those of Pritzker laureates Rem Koolhaas, Hon. FAIA, Rafael Moneo, Hon. FAIA, Richard Meier, FAIA, Jacques Herzog, Hon. FAIA, and Pierre de Meuron, Hon. FAIA, (who jointly received the 2001 award), Wang Shu, and Zaha Hadid, Hon. FAIA—along with Venturi himself. Earlier this month, it was signed by architect Ricardo Scofidio, AIA, of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who wrote: "When the work is the creation of two or more people, equal recognition is critical and demanded."

Assouline-Lichten says that she is disappointed with the committee’s decision, if not entirely surprised. She received a call from Pritzker Prize Committee executive director Martha Thorne before receiving the letter this afternoon: "She was warning me that she was going to deliver bad news … that the the jury had deliberated," Assouline-Lichten says. But, she notes, "we were never notified when the jury was deliberating. We were never notified if the jury was deliberating. We were never notified whether the jury was going to deliberate." 

"We anticipated that it would be hard," she says. "It's difficult for institutions to admit doing wrong. We had hoped over time they would come to acknowledge that they were in the wrong." At the very least, Assouline-Lichten says, she had hoped that they could establish a public discussion about the evaluation criteria for these types of awards. Now that seems unlikely. "We were trying to engage them in a dialogue," she adds. "What's been made clear is that they're unwilling to participate in that dialogue right now—but we're hopeful that over time, that will change."

Scott Brown in Las Vegas, 1966.

Scott Brown in Las Vegas, 1966.

Credit: Robert Venturi


Read the ARCHITECT Q&A with Denise Scott Brown.

Palumbo's letter, which was issued on behalf of the current Pritzker jury, noted that the decision does not mean that Scott Brown isn't eligible for the Pritzker in the future. "Let us assure you, however, that Ms. Scott Brown remains eligible for the Pritzker Award. That award is given on the basis of an architect’s total body of built work. Ms. Scott Brown has a long and distinguished career of architectural accomplishment." 

One of the biggest issues raised by the Scott Brown controversy was how women are acknowledged in a field that is dominated by men. Last year, Pritzker laureateWang Shu's wife and partner, Lu Wenyu, was also left off the award. In a recent interview, Shu said of the decision, "It's not right." 

Palumbo’s letter went on to acknowledge the debate about the status of women in the architectural field. "We believe that one particular role that the Pritzker Jury must fulfill, in this respect, is that of keeping in mind the fact that certain recommendations or discussions relating to architectural creation are often a reflection of particular times or places, which may reflect cultural biases that underplay a woman's role in the creative process. Where this occurs, we must, and we do, take such matters into account." The letter did not explain how exactly the committee will take these matters into account.

Scott Brown says that the whole controversy has not been without its benefits—namely that it has generated plenty of awareness about the role of joint creativity in the design and construction of buildings. "I'm feeling very good about this," she says, "especially all of this support from other people—people I've never even met." 

The groundswell certainly raises questions about the relevance of the Pritzker to begin with. "I think," she says wryly, "it will become known as the sad old white men's award."

Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi.

Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi.

Credit: George Pohl


Kriston Capps contributed reporting. This story will be updated as the story develops. 


The full text of Palumbo's letter can be found below.


June 14, 2013

Ms. Arielle Assouline-Lichten

Ms. Caroline James

Women in Design

Harvard Graduate School of Design

Cambridge, MA 02138

Dear Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James,

Thank you for sending your petitions and letters, and those of others, about Ms. Denise Scott Brown and the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Insofar as you have in mind a retroactive award of the prize to Ms. Scott Brown, the present jury cannot do so. Pritzker juries, over time, are made up of different individuals, each of whom does his or her best to find the most highly qualified candidate. A later jury cannot re-open, or second guess the work of an earlier jury, and none has ever done so.

Let us assure you, however, that Ms. Scott Brown remains eligible for the Pritzker Award. That award is given on the basis of an architect’s total body of built work. Ms. Scott Brown has a long and distinguished career of architectural accomplishment. It will be up to present and future juries to determine who among the many architects practicing throughout the world receives future awards. Not every knowledgeable observer always agrees with the jury’s selection. But the jury will continue to do its best to select solely upon the basis of the quality of the architect’s record.

That said, we should like to thank you for calling directly to our attention a more general problem, namely that of assuring women a fair and equal place within the profession. To provide that assurance is, of course, an obligation embraced by every part of the profession, from the schools that might first encourage students to enter the profession to the architectural firms that must facilitate the ability of women to fulfill their potential as architects. We believe that one particular role that the Pritzker Jury must fulfill, in this respect, is that of keeping in mind the fact that certain recommendations or discussions relating to architectural creation are often a reflection of particular times or places, which may reflect cultural biases that underplay a woman’s role in the creative process. Where this occurs, we must, and we do, take such matters into account.

Your communications remind us of this obligation, and we appreciate your sending them. Insofar, however, as they ask us to reopen the decision-making process of a previous jury, we cannot do so.

Yours sincerely,

Lord Peter Palumbo, Chair, On behalf of the Jury of the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize

The 2013 Jury of The Pritzker Architecture Prize is Lord Peter Palumbo (Chair), Alejandro Aravena, Stephen Breyer, Yung Ho Chang, Kristin Feireiss, Glenn Murcutt, and Juhani Pallasmaa, Ratan N. Tata. Martha Thorne is Executive Director.

Jury members serve for multiple years to assure a balance between current and new members and are entrusted with selecting the laureate each year. No outside observers or members of the Pritzker family are present during jury deliberations and voting. The international jury members are recognized professionals in their own fields of architecture, business, education, publishing, and culture.