Wednesday, May 19, 2010

NYTimes: Architects at Play, Dangling Medals

From The New York Times:

>> Architecture's luminaries gathered at Ellis Island to bestow their version of the Nobel, the Tony, the Oscar.

THE veterans debated over which was more memorable: the Versailles dinner, with fountains and all, for Tadao Ando, or the gilded reception for architecture's queen bee,Zaha Hadid, in St. Petersburg.Rem Koolhaas had his shining moment beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, while the Clintons brought out the White House welcome mat for Renzo Piano in that heady, pre-dot-com-bust year of 1998.
But guests heading to the ceremony and dinner that awarded this year's Pritzker Prize— often called the Nobel of architecture —to Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of the Japanese firm Sanaa were greeted by an altogether different sign of the times: a line leading to airport-like security.
On May 17, for the first time since 1983, when I. M. Pei was bestowed the honor at the Temple of Dendur at theMetropolitan Museum of Art, the Pritzker Prize ceremony took place in New York: specifically, on Ellis Island. And for the huddled masses yearning to partake in architecture's biggest night of the year, head lice exams gave way to X-ray scanners, as design titans, masters of the universe and assorted well-coiffed others awkwardly deposited their Constructivist jewelry and Ferragamo belts in plastic bins on conveyors.
"I wonder, just how much metal is Sejima wearing?" Anthony Vidler, the architecture dean at the Cooper Union, said jokingly about the night's co-honoree as he waited patiently for the boat to depart for the island.
Still, with buckles readjusted and bangles back on wrists, any inconveniences were soon forgotten as the evening took on a lightness befitting Sanaa's sublimely elegant buildings: the see-through Glass Pavilionfor the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio; the undulating slice of Swiss cheese that is the Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne; the mesh-clad New Museum on the Bowery.
"Sanaa did my store on Crosby Street," said the fashion designer Derek Lam, sipping red wine as a string quartet played. "That's why we're here to celebrate them."
Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann, Mr. Lam's partner and the company's C.E.O., said, "Actually, Sejima was our first customer when we started the business."
"She got a black double-breasted trench coat," Mr. Lam said.
"It was more like a Bordeaux red."
"No, it was definitely black."
For her part, Ms. Sejima, who is doing double duty this year as director of the Venice Architecture Biennale, was standing with Mr. Nishizawa near the Peopling of America exhibition. A petite woman, she was coddled within the voluminous, definitely black, ruffle-dappled dress that the Comme des Garçons designerRei Kawakubo had made for her.
"I am very pleased to be here," Ms. Sejima said before flashing a warm smile and being whisked away for a cigarette break.
Founded by the late Jay Pritzker and his wife, Cindy, of the Hyatt hotel fortune, the Pritzker Prize was started in 1979; Philip Johnson was its first recipient. It has become architecture's most prestigious honor, its adjectival use signaling the subject's place in the pantheon of living architects.
In the first century B.C., Vitruvius assigned to great buildings the three attributes of firmitas, utilitas, venustas: firmness, commodity, delight. Pritzker winners receive a bronze medal inscribed with that motto and translation, and $100,000.
But perhaps it's the canonization of the Architectus Celebritatus, that exotic species also known as the starchitect — a crossbreed between temperamental artist and brilliant problem-solver, idealistic do-gooder and opportunistic megalomaniac, starchy geek and shameless glamour puss — that is the prize's most enduring legacy.
There, in one corner, were the lanky Thom Mayne (Pritzker, '05) and Renzo Piano ('98), grazing not far from Christian de Portzamparc ('94) and the silver-haired Richard Meier('84). Though not a Pritzker winner, Rafael Vinoly appeared, as he usually does, as the eight-eyed savant wearing three pairs of spectacles: on the nose, around the neck and propped on his head, all at the same time. <<
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