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Partner Seeks Share of Pritzker Prize

Monday, April 8, 2013

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Just two weeks after Toyo Ito was named the 2013 recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, a coalition of more than 4,000 is urging the organizers of the prestigious honor to retroactively recognize an 82-year-old architect.

Philadelphia designer Denise Scott Brown says she has not been acknowledged by the Pritzker jury for her talents and contributions to the profession.

Denise Scott Brown

Denise Scott Brown, now 82, has not been silent on the inequities of her chosen profession. At a luncheon in March, she said the Pritzker organization owed her a ceremony, more than 20 years after her husband and partner received the award.

However, her husband and partner, Robert Venturi, was awarded the coveted prize in 1991.

Scott Brown and Venturi have been equal principals and collaborators in their practice Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates Inc. (now VSBA) for more than three decades. They also co-authored influential books on the practice, including Learning from Las Vegas in 1972.

‘A Ceremony’ not the Prize

“They owe me not a Pritzker Prize but a Pritzker inclusion ceremony,” Scott Brown reportedly said at the Architects’ Journal Women in Architecture Lunch in March.  

“Let’s salute the notion of joint creativity,” she said.

Scott Brown’s statements led a group of Harvard Graduate School of Design students to post an online petition demanding that Martha Thorne, executive director for the Pritzker Architecture Prize committee, redress the “unfortunate oversight” in recognizing Scott Brown’s husband and not her.

The petition has made headlines around the world and resulted in a social media frenzy.

View the petition here.

Demanding Equality

“Women in architecture deserve the same recognition as their male counterparts,” wrote the Harvard group, called Women In Design. “For women’s equality to become a reality today, we need to rectify the mistakes of the past. Help change history by demanding equal recognition for equal work.”

Pritzker Prize
Photo by Matt Wargo /

The couple's portfolio spans 50 years and includes hundreds of projects, including the Vanna Venturi House in Philadelphia, PA, noted by the Pritzker jury in 1991. 

Pritzker Prize officials have said they have taken the comments “under advisement,” according to reports.

Thorne told reporters that amending the Pritzker jury’s 1991 decision would not be a simple undertaking.

“The Pritzker Laureate is chosen annually by a panel of independent jurors. Those jurors change over the years, so this matter presents us with an unusual situation," Thorne said in a statement.

She said she would refer the matter to the current jury at its next meeting.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize was founded in 1979 by the late Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy.

4,000-Plus Signatories

As of Friday (April 5) afternoon, more than 4,000 people had signed the petition. They include ; Zaha Hadid, the first woman ever to receive the Pritzker Prize in 2004, among them. Other notable signatories include Farshid Moussavi, Hani Rashid and Venturi himself.

Venturi commented: “Denise Scott Brown is my inspiring and equal partner.” Scott Brown continues to work at the firm, while Venturi retired last year.

Scott Brown: ‘Very Happy’

Scott Brown, who reportedly refused to attend the ceremony honoring her husband in 1991, has also expressed her gratitude for the petition and movement in her honor.


Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown were equal partners and collaborators in their practice.

"Since the 1970s, I have been talking about sexism and architecture; it's been a long, long time,” she told the Huffington Post in an interview. “They think you can't be a wife and a genius, you can't be a woman and a genius.

“There are some crazies, which shows you there are a lot of emotions still about women and architecture. But I am very happy; [this petition] makes me in my old age so extremely happy."

In another interview with Architect Magazine, she described the ways she had been treated as a woman in the male-dominated profession—, or as she puts it, a "19th-century upper-middle-class men’s club.”

To date, the American Institute of Architects says only 19 percent of the organization’s membership is female.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architectural history; Architecture; Awards and honors; Color + Design; Design; Pritzker Architecture Prize

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