An American Hasn't Won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in a Decade

Chilean Alejandro Aravena has won this year's Pritzker Prize for "truly great design."

Cristobal Palma

The prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize has been awarded every year since 1979 and recognizes an architect for his or her contributions “to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.” It’s a big deal: $100,000, a medallion, and acclaim that, within the architecture world, is equivalent to a Nobel. This year’s winner is a Chilean, Alejandro Aravena, who served on the Pritzker Prize jury from 2009-2015.

Tom Pritzker, a businessman, philanthropist, and for the purposes of this prize, chief of the Pritzker organization, praised Aravena, a 48-year-old architect, in the award announcement late Tuesday:

“The jury has selected an architect who deepens our understanding of what is truly great design. Alejandro Aravena has pioneered a collaborative practice that produces powerful works of architecture and also addresses key challenges of the 21st century. His built work gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption, and provides welcoming public space. Innovative and inspiring, he shows how architecture at its best can improve people’s lives.”

Four out of the first six Pritzker Laureates were architects in the United States. The tide has turned since the 1980s, though. The last American architect to win was Thom Mayne, in 2005, and over the past 25 years only one other U.S. citizen has been given the honor.

Aravena, an architect whose designs have been called radical, created stunning designs that are all the more commendable for the social good that’s sometimes attached to them.

UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini, 2014, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile ELEMENTAL
Constitución Seaside Promenade, 2014, Constitución, ChileFelipe Diaz
Novartis Office Building, 2015 (under construction), Shanghai, China Samuel Born
Siamese Towers, 2005, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, ChileCristobal Palma
Mathematics School, 1999, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile Taduez Jalocha
St. Edward’s University Dorms, 2008, Austin, Texas, USA Cristobal Palma
UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini, 2014, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile Nina Vidic