Learn from Award-Winning 'Starchitects'

The architecture field has its own equivalent of the movie industry's Oscars: The Pritzker Architecture Prize and The Richard H. Driehaus Prize. View the designs of this year's winners.

July 1, 2009

What makes a good design and how does it benefit the public? You can learn from seeing and understanding the innovative designs the winners of the Pritzker Architect Prize and The Richard H. Driehaus Prize have fashioned.

Most people interested in architecture are familiar with the double-curved, titanium-covered collage-like buildings that 1989 Pritzker winner Frank O. Gehry designed, including his Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa, Spain. The Pritzker winner from 1998, Renzo Piano, has gained greater visibility because of the graceful combination of architectural forms and light-filled spaces in his newly built Modern Wing addition at the Art Institute of Chicago. And Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk’s, the 2008 Driehaus Prize recipients, may not be household names, but their work is for its promotion of the concept of New Urbanism at new communities such as Seaside in Florida where the front porch regained its role as an architectural icon and trigger for neighborliness and walkability.

The way these architects and the most recent 2009 Pritzker and Driehaus winners select architectural elements and materials, place a structure on a site, and incorporate square footage, volume, and light can inspire even simple, small houses to be the best designs possible. 

“If people become knowledgeable about these very important architects and their work, they gain a set of clues that will help them start a dialogue with an architect," says Raymund Ryan, curator of architecture at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.

The Richard H. Driehaus Prize

2009 Honoree:
Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil, native of Egypt

Hallmarks of style: The leading contemporary architect working in the Islamic style, known for his use of traditional forms, indigenous materials, and innovative processes. He is known for his commitment to the monumental and the humble. Among his most celebrated projects are the Quba Mosque in Medina, the King Saud Mosque in Jedda, and the Oxford University Center for Islamic Studies, a rare contemporary structure built without using concrete or steel.

In his own words: "Architecture creates all our activities…all the millions of acts that happen in the city are in a way propped like a stage by architecture, so…you experience space. In another sense, I found out, is that architecture is/makes us understand our cosmos—our cosmology…the dome is really..a simulation of heaven.”

About this award: The Driehaus Prize was established by Chicago businessman Richard H. Driehaus in 2003, and is given by the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. Its prestigious recipients have focused more on residential design and the use of classical and urbanist principles. Its mission is to honor architectural excellence by acknowledging an architect who has applied the principles of traditional, classical, and sustainable architecture and urbanism to contemporary society.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize 

2009 Honoree:
Peter Zumthor, Switzerland

Hallmarks of the style: “Zumthor has a keen ability to create places that are much more than a single building. His architecture expresses respect for the primacy of the site, legacy of a local culture, invaluable lessons of architectural history,” according to jury chairman Lord Palumbo.

In his own words: “I believe that the language of architecture is not a question of a specific style. Every building is built for a specific use in a specific place and for a specific society. My buildings try to answer the questions that emerge from these simple facts as precisely and critically as they can.”

About this award: The Pritzker Architecture Prize has been awarded since 1979 by members of Chicago’s Pritzker family to recognize an architect’s body of outstanding work. Many of their buildings have become “icons” and cultural catalysts that reflect their vision of where the field is headed, says architect Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the architecture program at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

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