The Pritzker Prize Laureates in Their Own Words


Edited by Ruth Peltason

Edited by Grace Ong Yan

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In this completely revised and up-to-date edition, the world’s most accomplished architects — Gehry, Pei, Meier, Nouvel, Piano, and 37 more-express their views on creativity, inspiration, and legacy in this visually stunning, one-of-a-kind collection.

The Pritzker Prize is the most prestigious international prize for architecture. Architect includes all 42 recipients of the Pritzker Prize, and captures in pictures and their own words their awe-inspiring achievements. Organized in reverse chronological order by laureate each chapter features four to six of the architect’s major works, including museums, libraries, hotels, places of worship, and more. The text, culled from notebooks, interviews, articles, and speeches illuminates the architects’ influences and inspirations, personal philosophy, and aspirations for his own work and the future of architecture. The book includes More than 1000 stunning photographs, blueprints, sketches, and CAD drawings.Architect offers an unprecedented view into the minds of some of the most creative thinkers, dreamers, and builders of the last three decades and reveals that buildings are political, emotional, and spiritual.



The updated edition of Architect arrives on the cusp of 40 years of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. There is much to celebrate and acknowledge. Since our book was originally published in 2010, nine more laureates have been named and now added to this anniversary edition: Eduardo Souto de Moura (2011), Wang Shu (2012), Toyo Ito (2013), Shigeru Ban (2014), Frei Otto (2015), Alejandro Aravena (2016), and, at the time of publication, architects Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, and Ramon Vilalta (2017). Geographically, the forty-four laureates encircle the world—from our home base in the United States to Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, and the U.K. Their built works represented here cast an even wider circumference of the globe.

This “wider circumference” brings with it a discernible emphasis in the works of these recent laureates, chiefly a response to natural disasters and societies in crisis. About this, Alejandro Aravena is declarative: “The advancement of architecture is a way to improve people’s quality of life.” Shigeru Ban, who worries less about the form and more about the inhabitants, speaks of “meaningful architecture”: “If the structure is loved by the people, it will stay forever.” With erudition and grace, Toyo Ito addresses the “fluid order in nature” and, in his Home-for-All projects, seeks “a new community architecture.”

Materials encoded with meaning and memory turn up in the work of Wang Shu. His reclamation of bricks and tiles from ruins is “a way of preserving time” and of “containing values that we must keep alive.” The architect-poet Souto de Moura escalates the selection of materials and style of architecture to the canvas of creativity itself: “the greatest aspiration of an architect is to… create, in a given time, a space that will possess the wisdom accumulated over thousands of years.” Architects Aranda, Pigem, and Vilalta address the quality of life, of connecting the global and the local: “Because although we are passionate about globality, we want our architecture to sink its roots deeply into its specific location. We often say it is good to have roots and wings.”

Aspiration is often expressed in the words of the beloved, late Frei Otto: “Whether it will be possible in the future to contribute to world peace by means of good residential and urban planning is something we can only hope.”

Each of the Pritzker Prize laureates engages in a dialogue, both in words and in the making of architecture, in what Aravena describes as the “doing” of architecture. And each laureate, in his or her inimitable way, considers the role of architecture and our world “then, now, and tomorrow.” With characteristic eloquence and ease, Souto de Moura says of architects, “Our role is to improve the world, perhaps by design.”

R. P. and G. O. Y.

Spring 2017


Architecture is at the core of our contemporary culture. When we look at the distinguished buildings of our time—some that we may inhabit in our everyday lives, seek out as tourists, or regard intellectually—the physical architectural features draw us in. But there is so much we don’t know, beginning with, What did the architect intend? Why is a building a given shape, or made with certain materials? What about the landscape, or the constraints of a city? And what about us—how much were we, the public, considered when the architect began to first imagine the work?

This is an uncommon book of architecture. So often writing on architecture is through the lens of a critic, scholar, or journalist. But in Architect, we look through the other end of the telescope: this time it is the architect—35 Pritzker Prize laureates, to be specific—who speak to us and share their thoughts, dreams, philosophies, inspirations, and influences about their built work. Here the outsider is silenced and we listen instead to the creators themselves. The results are illuminating. On the whole, architects tend to be intensely thoughtful and verbal. There is Peter Zumthor (2009), the architect’s poet, who can make stone as seductive as a steamy art film (of the Thermal Baths in Vals, Switzerland, he writes: “mass, large and serene, should be left alone so that the presence of the stone is felt, so that it can exert its own effect on our bodies.”). Contrast that with someone like Frank Gehry (1989), who is to the point about his work and his legacy (of Guggenheim Bilbao: “the most important thing to me is to build the buildings.” And, “In the end my work is my work; it’s not a critic’s work.”). Or Thom Mayne (2005), who speaks emphatically of “the music of reality.” And there is the intensely personal aspect of architecture, its emotive quality, summed up simply but heroically by Luis Barragán (1980): “my architecture is biographical.” Now look at works by each of these architects and you will be looking as a privileged insider—with the eyes of the architect him- and herself.

The architects presented here are not only hugely influential and leaders in their field, they are the Pritzker Prize laureates, deemed the best architects in the world. Collectively, they have shaped the field of architecture, architectural history, and our built environment at the end of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first. The annual Pritzker Prize has been called architecture’s Nobel Prize, a comparison supported by both prizes’ use of an open nominations procedure and independence of the jury. It was only in 1979 that the Pritzker family of Chicago through the Hyatt Foundation established the prize. Though relatively young as prizes go, its impact has been enormous and significant. Its stated purpose is “to honor a living architect 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 prize is not given for a specific built work, but rather for what is considered to be the accumulated excellence of a career. From the first laureate, Philip Johnson, in 1979, to Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the 2010 laureates, the arc of architectural accomplishment is both impressive and potent.

In focusing on what architects have to say about their work, we chose to present the Pritkzer Prize laureates because they not only provide an extraordinary and wide-ranging international selection of contemporary architecture of the past three decades, but also because many of them, at least in name, are familiar to a broad audience. Their prominence extends well beyond more cloistered architecture circles. A list of major landmarks impresses in scope and place, including I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid for the Louvre in Paris, Norman Foster’s profound response to the historically loaded Reichstag in Berlin, Jørn Utzon’s melodic Sydney Opera House, Herzog & de Meuron’s triumphant Beijing National Stadium, Tange’s deeply respectful Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Kevin Roche’s long-lasting affiliation with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The list goes on and on. The differences in the architects’ approaches, interests, and locations are great, but the connective tissue is that each is a strong individual with well-honed philosophies, intensely focused in the practice of architecture. In the work of these laureates we see reflected the trajectory of changing tastes over time.

As we began our research, one of our early questions was, Does an architect follow through—is there a connection from an architect’s ideas to the execution of those ideas? In other words, does an architect walk the talk? Although it’s often said that a work speaks volumes, we turned the tables and asked, But how about the words themselves? What do they tell us?

Architect is organized chronologically, taking as its starting point today, 2010, and retracing the laureates back to the debut of the Pritzker Prize in 1979 of that outspoken sophisticate, Philip Johnson (“I don’t think ideology has anything to do with architecture.… You see, I have no convictions, but do have taste.”) Each chapter features approximately four to six major built works that are both awe-inspiring and important in defining each architect’s body of work, as well as their contributions to the field. The projects were carefully chosen to demonstrate the depth and richness of repertoire, for in sum they profile the diversity of our lives, our interests, and our needs: schools, places of worship, shops, airports, museums, courthouses, stadiums and sports arenas, corporate headquarters, residences, embassies, memorials, spas, libraries, hotels, banks, and cemeteries. But in this book we look at the built work with the architects themselves talking in our ear, leading us into the privileged and often private terrain of their own thoughts, gathered from a variety of sources including interviews, lectures, and writings. As the title of this book makes clear, this is the Pritzker Prize laureates “in their own words.”

They had plenty to say on a number of topics, beginning with the most important issues over the past three decades, including materiality, regionalism, and sustainability. Indeed, one of the most urgent issues of our time is the practice of ecological architecture and the use of sustainable technologies. Glenn Murcutt (2002), Richard Rogers (2007), and Norman Foster (1999) are leaders in incorporating sustainable technologies at the core of their architecture, setting new standards for practicing architects as well as for society. Murcutt, for example, is both a leader and teacher in ecological architecture, pioneering such concepts as, “climate-responsive architecture,” as well as showing us that sustainable practices need not be overly technical, but that in fact, ethics, as well as ordinary and simple things, are very much part of this approach.

As our research continued, there were many surprises too. The importance of the cinema as a lens through which to view the human condition influences Aldo Rossi (1990), Herzog & de Meuron (2001), and Christian de Portzamparc (1994). As Jean Nouvel (2009) observes, “there are a lot of crossovers between the two disciplines.” A number of the laureates have express opinions about the pros and cons of generating a design using the computer or other digital technology and architectural software, including AutoCAD, as well as three-dimensional modeling tools like Rhino, 3D Studio Max, and Maya. (Hadid, yes; Utzon, never; Gehry, grudgingly.) From architects like de Portzamparc and the late James Stirling (1981), we learn that architecture does not exist in isolation—that it is instead vitally informed by its context, be it urban or natural. Cities and nature are dramatis personae to be reckoned with (clients, too, but less glowingly). Aldo Rossi writes, “A knowledge of the city enables us not only to understand architecture, but also, as architects, to design it.” Kevin Roche and Fumihiko Maki (1993) each intone the value of public service and the greater good, for as James Stirling once said of the architect, “it is his unique responsibility to raise the human spirit by the quality of the environment which he creates, whether in a room, a building, or a town.” Personalities emerge in delightfully unexpected ways, most notably Gordon Bunshaft (1988), who was famously reticent on the topic of his architectural process and theories, having once said flatly, “I like my architecture to speak for me.” Contrast this with the eighty-year-old Bunshaft who told his interviewer, Betty Blum, “I’m old. And I can reminisce for the next ten years.” On the Beineke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, Bunshaft recalled, “I’ve had ladies write me about the Beinecke saying that they just shivered when they saw it.” As for the pitfall of becoming or being labeled a starchitect, Mayne is unambiguous on the subject.

Another frequent topic among the architects was their indebtedness to the modern masters. Tadao Ando (1995), Kenzo Tange (1987), and Sverre Fehn (1997), to name a few, reference the significant influence of Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887–1965). German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) was another influential figure. So too were Louis Kahn (1901–1974) and Walter Gropius (1883–1969). Among the laureates, Jørn Utzon (2003) is frequently upheld as an example of an architect wronged by local politics, but whose vision for the Sydney Opera House is one of the great architectural designs of the modern age.

Among these architects, you will find tastemakers, manifesto-writers, and intellectuals. They are the kinds of particularly influential architects who devote their energies to academia and cultural institutions as well as to building architecture. Rem Koolhaas (2000), Rafael Moneo (1996), Robert Venturi (1991), Aldo Rossi, and James Stirling are architect-theorists who, through their architecture, writings, and teaching have influenced many generations of young architects. As Thom Mayne has remarked, he hopes to engage “virtual territory—that is, the territory of the mind of the student.”

A significant change since 2000 is that women have won the Pritzker Prize. In 2004, Zaha Hadid became the first woman named a laureate and in 2010, Kazuyo Sejima, with her male partner as SANAA, also won the prize. While there are many women architects practicing today in the traditionally male-dominated profession of architecture, the percentage that lead their own firms is still surprisingly small. As Sejima says, “There is an image that it is only men who make big projects, but I think that’s just because there weren’t many women in architecture in the past. Hadid, characteristically, is more forthright: “If I was a man, they wouldn’t call me a diva.”

And where does Architecture intersect with Art? Many architects, including Renzo Piano (1998), believe that while architecture is a kind of art, its material, structural, and functional aspects make it unique. By contrast, Philip Johnson sees it as a no-contest debate: “Architecture is art, nothing else.”

Regarding the prosaic matters of editing and such, we kept changes to a minimum throughout, preferring to preserve natural cadence and syntax, hoping that in this regard readers can most directly experience any of the architects in their glorious diversity. For matters of internal consistency, we Americanized spelling and punctuation, and corrected obvious errors when necessary.

As the editors of this massive body of work, we have brought together two satisfyingly divergent views of architecture. We like to think that together we represent a broad audience of interested readers: Ruth Peltason is an editor and writer, with years of experience editing art and illustrated books, among them 100 Contemporary Architects by Bill Lacy, former executive director of the Pritkzer Prize. Grace Ong Yan, Ph.D., is an architectural historian, educator, and architect who specializes in modern and contemporary architecture.

Despite our different skills and interests, we have each been moved and enriched by the experience of compiling this publication. Each of the architects, through their own words, has given us a greater appreciations of their work. Our hope is that Architect offers interested readers fresh meaning and ideas, and serves both to elevate and humanize the process of making great architecture.

Ruth Peltason

Grace Ong Yan, Ph.D.

May 2010



BORN: Rafael Aranda, May 12, 1961, Olot, Girona, Spain; Carme Pigem, April 18, 1962, Olot, Girona, Spain; Ramon Vilalta, April 25, 1960, Vic, Barcelona, Spain

EDUCATION: (All three laureates) Diploma, School of Architecture, Vallès (Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura del Vallès, or ETSAV), Sant Cugat del Vallès (Barcelona) Spain, 1987

OFFICE: RCR Aranda Pigem Vilalta Arquitectes, C. Fontanella, 26, 17800, Olot, Girona, Spain

Tel: +34 972 269 105,

PROJECTS FEATURED: Soulages Museum, Rodez, France, 2014; Les Cols Restaurant Marquee, Olot, Girona, Spain, 2011; Barberí Laboratory, Olot, Girona, Spain, 2008; Bell-Lloc Winery, Palamós, Girona, Spain, 2007; Tossols-Basil Athletic Track, Olot, Spain, 2000

ORIGINS We believe that well-harmonized architecture means having a good understanding of the environment around it. Because although we are passionate about globality, we want our architecture to sink its roots deeply into its specific location. We often say it is good to have roots and wings.

_ R. A., C. P., R. V., courtesy RCR Arquitectes

We all have “our origins,” which remain constant within us, even when we move from one place to another. We are the result of a place, a climate, a culture. Distances in the world are becoming smaller and smaller, but we believe it is essential to understand and respect these origins, which ought to strengthen a shared creativity in which everyone should feel represented.

_ A + U: Architecture and Urbanism 542, Special Issue, November 2015


Bell-Lloc Winery, Palamós, Spain, 2007 The interior of the winery, looking toward the tasting room. The slats not only allow air and light to enter the winery but also generate a variety of shadows throughout the day.


Aranda, Pigem, and Vilalta are distinctive for the intense and enduring collaborative nature of their work together. They are, de facto, architects with one voice.


When we graduated, we decided to share the experience of entering the real world, and we’re still at it. So we started just like that. None of us three have ever worked in any other office, and we’ve grown together, talked a lot, done in-depth research into the issues we are interested in, travelled, all of which has facilitated our mutual understanding.

_ A + U: Architecture and Urbanism 542, Special Issue, November 2015

Ideas arise from dialogue and conversation by more than one person. We have believed in dialogue. In a way it’s like spoken jazz. One says something, another one continues. This type of conversation takes you to unexpected places. It’s almost a reaction against the contemporary world that has promoted, in an exaggerated way, the value of the individual. We have always appreciated this idea of sharing.

_ R. A., C. P., R. V., video, Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2017

To share this journey is to talk, to feel relieved, not indispensable, to be enriched in a collective way, to perceive the presence of the whole and acknowledge its relevance, to put aside individual reason and push shared creativity into levels of excellence where individuality cannot arrive.

_ R. A., C. P., R. V., courtesy RCR Arquitectes

To quote the Spanish philosopher J. A. Marina, we like to say that “shared creativity” is something that lets a group of not necessarily extraordinary people produce extraordinary results.

_ A + U: Architecture and Urbanism 542, Special Issue, November 2015

First thing in the morning, there’s a brief exchange between us three. Then with our staff, meetings or site inspections. We share our discussions on every project, regardless of the scale. If we have disagreements, we reiterate our conversations and our trials to get a better idea, even if it requires more time and it’s a common idea.

_ A + U: Architecture and Urbanism 542, Special Issue, November 2015

Our collaboration was always easy and flowing. We’ve always talked a lot. Little by little we’ve learned to communicate simply with a look. At first it was a slow process, but with time, now we are working together for forty years. We are able to communicate with many parts of our bodies.

_ R. A., C. P., R. V., video, Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2017

When we begin a project, we are very interested in visiting the place.… We are used to reading the place as if it spoke to us with its own alphabet, an alphabet established between the site and us.… We like to think about the program, the needs that we can detect. This is the beginning for us. We don’t like to start with a typology or assumptions. We ask, “What is this?” Building in places far from home encourages us to understand those places. We are passionate about this. We do not want to do the same that we do at home and just transplant it. Rather, the way we understand space and spatial relationships is a search to arrive at the essential of each different place. This what drives us.

_ R. A., C. P., R. V., video, Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2017


In a special issue of El Croquis, the architects were posed eighty-four “exam” questions, to which they replied with sincerity and wit. The following are excerpts.

Test for an Architecture Exam

1. Architecture is a very long word. Can it be abbreviated?

The art of materializing dreams on a long journey.

2. Do architects construct architecture?

Not always; sometimes we destroy it.

3. What do you learn from?

From our senses, and from an intense, selective gaze.

4. Who do you learn from?

From anybody who has allowed a work to speak for itself.

28. Is new good?

No, but neither is old.

33. Is silence music?


36. Digital world: instrument or matter?

We use the instrument and we investigate matter.

82. Is 3 better than 1?


_ El Croquis 115/116 (III), 2003


In 1988, most recent graduates tended to stay in the capital, Barcelona, and work in a prestigious office at a time when most architects in Catalonia wanted to be part of a project for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. But we took a very natural initiative and decided to return to experience and work with the architecture of our homeland, where all our families resided, Olot.

_ A + U: Architecture and Urbanism 542, Special Issue, November 2015

Just a short stroll takes you into the heart of the landscape, the forest, the river. Your experiences are very different here from in a big city, because knowing something about nature isn’t the same as experiencing it directly. And that difference is present in our daily lives and in the way we regard architecture.

_ A + U: Architecture and Urbanism 542, Special Issue, November 2015


The shared workspace, a feature of the collaborative environment of Barberí Laboratory, is actually a large library table around which the three principals discuss projects.



We were captivated by “Espai Barberí” when we visited it ten years before. So in 2008, we moved to this old foundry, and now we have already been here for 7! It’s an old complex with references dating back to 1550. It was always the Barberí art foundry, where bronze church bells, pots and artists’ sculptures were cast. It’s so easy to feel the power of fire, earth, water, air, light, time, and nature in this space. Although we are in the town center, this is a breathing space for us, a world of silence, a microcosm.

_ A + U: Architecture and Urbanism 542, Special Issue, November 2015

The original Barberí foundry, which dates to the beginning of the 20th century, inspired the present iteration. The original wood, stone, and ceramic materials contrast with the added steel and glass, creating the light, open environment. Glass-enclosed pavilions also function to bring nature into the work space.



On Sale
Nov 7, 2017
Page Count
464 pages