In the world of contemporary architecture it can often seem like form doesn’t really much care about function. Increasingly the function of the buildings, whether displaying artistic works or working on artistic displays, can be eclipsed by the designing architect’s vision of grandeur. So it was a somewhat unusual move recently when this year’s Pritzker, the most prestigious architecture prize, was bestowed on a couple of architects known for less showy designs. Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa are the third pair, and fourth Japanese architects to win the Pritzker, a prize named for the family that originated Hyatt Hotels.
“The buildings by Sejima and Nishizawa seem deceptively simple. The architects hold a vision of a building as a seamless whole, where the physical presence retreats and forms a sensuous background for people, objects, activities, and landscapes. They explore like few others the phenomenal properties of continuous space, lightness, transparency, and materiality to create a subtle synthesis. Sejima and Nishizawa’s architecture stands in direct contrast with the bombastic and rhetorical. Instead, they seek the essential qualities of architecture that result in a much-appreciated straightforwardness, economy of
means, and restraint in their work,” said the Jury that selected them. Who ever thought the word “bombastic” could apply to a structure?
This doesn’t mean that buildings by Sejima and Nishizawa are in any way shape or form shrinking violets, fading into the background like black suits at a funeral. The relation of the building to its context is of utmost importance to Sejima and Nishizawa. As the Jury further elaborated, “They have called public buildings ‘mountains in the landscape,’ believing that they should never lose the natural and meaningful connection with their
surroundings. The New Museum in New York feels at home in the rough Bowery area of the city. Their glass-enclosed museums, such as the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, blur the borders between inside and out, providing direct and changing views to the surroundings. All of which emphasizes what we already know, good design should be more about the product than the producer.