Page N1.2 . 31 March 2010                     
ArchitectureWeek - News Department
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Pritzker Prize goes to SANAA


In explaining this year's rare dual award, the Pritzker jury noted that, over the course of Sejima and Nishizawa's 15-year partnership, the two have worked so closely together that "it is virtually impossible to untangle which individual is responsible for what aspect of a particular project."

As Pritzker laureates, the pair join such other architects as Peter Zumthor (2009), Frank Gehry(1989), and Japanese architects Tadao Ando (1995), Fumihiko Maki (1993), and the late Kenzo Tange (1987).


In each of their four major museums, Sejima and Nishizawa present outwardly simple forms that belie a surprising complexity. Working with an everyday material palette — often concrete, glass, and steel — the pair creates structures that respond sensitively to both place and program. Each building "forms a sensuous background for people, objects, activities, and landscapes," according to the jury.

At the O-Museum, the result is a long, articulated tubular form lifted on concrete stilts. The building stands at the edge of a wooded area, the textured finish of its glass cladding strategically removed in places to frame views across a courtyard.

At the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, a low, broad cylindrical form encloses a variety of taller cuboid volumes. This move allows the building to present a crisply uniform facade at ground level and provides for a continuous zone of circulation and gathering spaces just inside the cylinder's glass walls.

The two U.S. museums offer a study in contrasts. The Glass Pavilion, built to house the Toledo Museum of Art's large collection of glass artwork, is itself a celebration of glass. A broad, low building, embracing light and the open site on which it was built, this extroverted structure goes still further in its celebration of transparency. The pavilion employs curved interior glass partition walls to enclose spaces, giving each room its own glass wrapper, separate from those of adjacent spaces, wherever programmatically possible. The result is a series of spaces separated by interstitial zones that provide acoustic and thermal insulation.

In contrast, the New Museum in Lower Manhattan is a taller, narrower building constrained by a tight urban site. While the glazed ground floor seems an open extension of the sidewalk, the gallery floors of this building are introverted, with mainly opaque walls and minimal daylight from limited windows and skylights, focusing the visitor's attention on the displayed artwork. With its skewed stacked-box massing and aluminum-mesh facade, the museum seems at home in its gritty neighborhood.


Kazuyo Sejima was born in Japan's Ibaraki Prefecture in 1956 and studied architecture at Japan Women's University, graduating in 1981 with a master's degree.

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1966, Ryue Nishizawa completed a master's degree in architecture at Yokohama National University in 1990.

After working six years with Toyo Ito & Associates, Sejima founded Kazuyo Sejima & Associates in 1987; Nishizawa joined her firm that same year. They went on to found SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates) in 1995, completing the firm's first project — the S-House in Okayama, Japan — in 1996.

Both architects also hold academic positions: Sejima is a professor at Keio University in Tokyo, and Nishizawa is an associate professor at Yokohama National University in Yokohama.

Other major projects by SANAA include the recently opened Rolex Learning Center at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland; the cubic, concrete Zollverein School of Management and Design in Essen, Germany; the etched glass-clad Christian Dior Building in Tokyo's Omotesando neighborhood; and a ferry terminal in Naoshima, Japan.

The firm's current projects include the Vitra Factory Building in Weil am Rhein, Germany; the Louvre-Lens museum in Lens, France; and public housing in Paris.

The 2010 Pritzker Prize award ceremony, at which the architects will receive $100,000, will be held on Ellis Island on May 17. Established in 1979 and awarded annually, the Pritzker Prize recognizes a living architect whose built work combines "talent, vision, and commitment," and who is deemed by the jury to have made significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the practice of architecture.

The jury for the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize was chaired by Lord Palumbo, chairman of trustees for the Serpentine Gallery, London, and also included Alejandro Aravena, architect and executive director of Elemental, Santiago, Chile; Rolf Fehlbaum, chairman of the board of Vitra, Basel, Switzerland; Carlos Jimenez, professor at Rice University School of Architecture and principal of Carlos Jimenez Studio, Houston, Texas; Juhani Pallasmaa, architect, professor, and author, Helsinki, Finland; Renzo Piano, architect and 1998 Pritzker laureate, Paris, France, and Genoa, Italy; and Karen Stein, writer, editor, and architectural consultant, New York, New York. Martha Thorne, associate dean for external relations at the IE School of Architecture, Madrid, Spain, is executive director.   >>>

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David Owen is the managing production editor of ArchitectureWeek.   More by David Owen



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An undulating building profile and irregularly shaped courtyards combine to produce unusual interior spaces at the Rolex Learning Center.
Photo: Hisao Suzuki/ Courtesy SANAA Extra Large Image

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EPFL Rolex Learning Center floor plan drawing.
Image: SANAA Extra Large Image

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The O-Museum (Ogasawara Museum) stands on an isolated heritage site near Nagano, Japan.
Photo: Hisao Suzuki/ Courtesy SANAA Extra Large Image

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Raised above the ground, the O-Museum (1999) respects the remains of a 14th-century castle that previously stood on the site.
Photo: Hisao Suzuki/ Courtesy SANAA Extra Large Image

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Pure geometric forms of varying heights protrude from a low enclosing cylindrical volume at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (2004) in Kanazawa, Japan.
Photo: SANAA Extra Large Image

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Open spaces just inside the curving glass exterior wall of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art offer opportunities to walk, gather, and pause.
Photo: Hisao Suzuki/ Courtesy SANAA Extra Large Image

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Floor plan drawing of the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio.
Image: SANAA Extra Large Image

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The Glass Pavilion (2006) has glass exterior walls, and many interior partitions are also a single layer of glass.
Photo: Hisao Suzuki/ Courtesy SANAA Extra Large Image


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