Created by Chicagoan businessman and lawyer Jay A. Pritzker in 1979, the prize is celebrating its 40th in solid health, with vitality and renown, leading to it being dubbed the ‘Nobel Prize for Architecture’. The Pritzker Prize is awarded every year by the Hyatt Foundation in recognition of an architect whose life work has left its mark—one of the most important aspects that characterises the top prize in a discipline combining construction and art. The prize is a perfect example of how to combine prestige and popularity. The man behind the award, and who made it an institution, also founded the Hyatt hotel chain in 1957 alongside his brother Donald Pritzker. The Hyatt Foundation continues to sponsor and award the annual prize today.
Some awards honour the recipient and others showcase the prize. But the list of Pritzker-winning architects clearly shows that these aspects can reinforce one another in harmony: Frank Gehry (1989), Rafael Moneo (1996), Renzo Piano (1998), Norman Foster (1999) and Jean Nouvel (2008) are just some of the architects to have taken home the award.
According to its statement of principles, the prize from the Hyatt Foundation honours ‘a living architect or architects 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’. It is decided on by a rotating, time-limited jury of between five and nine professionals, some of whom are linked to architecture. In this way, the revolving nature ensures a balance between perspectives on architecture and art, and avoids any criteria becoming consolidated at the expense of other architectural currents. In comparison, the Nobel Prize is awarded by a jury of lifelong members at the Swedish Academy of Sciences or Languages.
The Pritzker Prize has balanced the recognition of global authorities in architecture with on-going awareness of innovation at all times. The underlying idea has always been to highlight ‘proof of high-level creativity in the design of the works, from both a functional and quality construction approach’. These ‘Nobel for architecture’ prizes have been awarded to both well-known, media-friendly architects such as Foster or Gehry, and practices that are completely unknown to the general public, such as the Catalan studio RCR. Nonetheless, what is clear is that in order to win a Pritzker, nominees must leave their mark through work that is inducted into the pantheon of excellence.