Rem Koolhaas, a 56 year old architect from the Netherlands, has been named the Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate for the year 2000.
In Europe, he has a number of completed projects that have won high praise from critics, including a residence in Bordeaux, France; the Educatorium, a multifunction building for Utrecht University in the Netherlands; the master plan and Grand Palais for Lille, France which is his largest realized urban planning project; and the Kunsthal, providing exhibition space, a restaurant and auditoriums in Rotterdam. His Nexus Housing in Fukuoka, Japan, is a project consisting of 24 individual houses, each three stories high. Koolhaas also has projects in Portugal, Korea and Germany, the latter being a new embassy for the Netherlands in Berlin, which is currently under construction.
He has a number of major commissions in the United States that will come to fruition within the next two years: a student center for the predominantly Mies van der Rohe campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and a new central public library for Seattle, as well as buildings in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Koolhaas has also been working for Universal Studios, owned by the Seagram Company, on a master plan and headquarters buildings.
Koolhaas’ work and ideas often spark critical debate in areas in which he has been working. While his radical design for the Seattle Public Library has won praise there, initial reports described Seattle as “bracing for a wild ride with a man famous for straying outside the bounds of convention.” “It seems fitting that as we begin a new millennium, the jury should choose an architect that seems so in tune with the future,” says Thomas J. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation. “In fact, Koolhaas has been called a prophet of a new modern architecture. It’s not surprising that the Museum of Modern Art has had not one, but two exhibitions devoted to his ideas.”
The Bordeaux house, named as Best Design of 1998 by Time magazine, is one of his most important works, designed to fill the needs of a couple whose old house had become a prison to the husband who has been confined to a wheelchair following an automobile accident. Koolhaas proposed a home in three sections, actually what he prefers to describe as three houses, one on top of the other. The lowest part he calls “cave-like, a series of caverns carved out from the hill for the most intimate life of the family.” The “top house” is divided into spaces for the couple, and spaces for their children. Sandwiched in between is an almost invisible glass room, half inside, half outside, meeting the grade on one side, where the client has his own room for living. This room is actually a vertically moving platform, 3×3.5 meters (10×10.75 feet), functioning as an elevator, which allows the man access to all levels. One wall of the elevator is a continuous surface of shelves providing access to books for his work.
Koolhaas published his first book, Delirious New York, in 1978. Author James Steele described it as “an offbeat but well-expressed and incisive look at the pattern of urban growth.” A Los Angeles Times article described the book as “bulging with novel theories and images about that city, among them an image of the Chrysler Building in bed with the Empire State Building.” More recently, he wrote S,M,L,XL, which Time magazine called “the ultimate coffee-table book for a generation raised on both MTV and Derrida.”
The Pritzker jury considers Koolhaas’ writings so important that the prize citation says he is as well known for his books, plans and academic explorations as he is for his buildings. Pritzker Prize jury chairman, J. Carter Brown, commented, “Rem Koolhaas is widely respected as one of the most gifted and original talents in world architecture today. The leader of a spectacularly irreverent generation of Dutch architects, his restless mind, conceptual brilliance, and ability to make a building sing have earned him a stellar place in the firmament of contemporary design.”
Bill Lacy, the executive director of the Pritzker Prize, wrote in his 1991 book, 100 Contemporary Architects, “As an architect/philosopher/artist, Dutchman Rem Koolhaas has expanded and continues to expand our perceptions of cities and civilization.” Lacy, who is president of the State University of New York at Purchase, added, “Koolhaas has amassed an intriguing array of brilliant projects that continually blur the line between urban design and architecture. He has a rare talent and ability to think in design terms that range from the smallest construction detail to the concept for a regional master plan.”
The formal presentation of what has come to be known throughout the world as architecture’s highest honor was made at a ceremony in Jerusalem, Israel on May 29, 2000. At that time, Koolhaas was presented with a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion. He is the first Pritzker Laureate from the Netherlands, and the 23rd to be honored. The purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is to honor annually 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 present jury comprises the already mentioned J. Carter Brown, director emeritus of the National Gallery of Art, and chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, who continues to serve as chairman; Giovanni Agnelli, chairman of Fiat from Torino, Italy; Ada Louise Huxtable, author and architectural critic of New York; Jorge Silvetti, chairman, department of architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design; and Lord Rothschild, former chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund of Great Britain and formerly the chairman of that country’s National Gallery.
The prize presentation ceremony moves to different locations around the world each year, paying homage to historic and contemporary architecture. As already mentioned, this year’s ceremony was held in the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, utilizing a site where some two millennia ago there existed an architectural wonder, the world’s largest arch leading to the Temple Mount. Philip Johnson was the first Pritzker Laureate in 1979. Sir Norman Foster, of the UK was the 1999 Laureate. Renzo Piano of Italy was the 21st Laureate on the 20th anniversary in 1998. Two architects were named to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the prize in 1988: the late Gordon Bunshaft of the United States and Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil, hence the reason for 23 laureates in 22 years. There have been seven laureates chosen from the United States, and with Koolhaas, 16 laureates from 12 other countries around the world.
The field of architecture was chosen by the Pritzker family because of their keen interest in building due to their involvement with developing the Hyatt Hotels around the world; also because architecture was a creative endeavor not included in the Nobel Prizes. The procedures were modeled after the Nobels, with the final selection being made by the international jury with all deliberations and voting in secret. Nominations are continuous from year to year with over 500 nominees from more than 40 countries being considered each year.
More information on www.pritzkerprize.com