One angry man

Patrik Schumacher gets a rough ride from time to time. He is director of Zaha Hadid Architects, one of the most Marmite of designers. In addition, his espousal of parametrics is intellectually demanding and at times downright confusing. impressing some and leading to opprobrium from others.

Patrik Schumacher gets a rough ride from time to time. He is director of Zaha Hadid Architects, one of the most Marmite of designers. In addition, his espousal of parametrics is intellectually demanding and at times downright confusing. impressing some and leading to opprobrium from others. And in the past he has also been subjected, which is unusual and utterly unjustifiable, in the architectural press to ad hominem attacks – going for the person rather than the work.

So it is scarcely surprising that if anybody is going to attack the awarding of the Pritzker Prize it should be him. Pritzker is an international annual prize for architecture that is highly prestigious (past recipients include Zaha Hadid Architects) although like all such prizes the reasons for the award seem sometimes a little random.

This year’s recipient is Chilean Alejandro Aravena. I admit that when I first heard the name, I thought ‘who’? But I do know of the work, in particular his Quinta Monroy housing, where residents are effectively given half a house and add more later to suit their needs and their pockets. 

This is an interesting social approach. And Aravena is, at 48, a relatively young recipient. So what’s not to like?

A lot, according to Schumacher. Here, in full, is what he said on Facebook: 

The PC takeover of architecture is complete: Pritzker Prize mutates into a prize for humanitarian work. The role of the architect is now “to serve greater social and humanitarian needs” and the new Laureate is hailed for “tackling the global housing crisis” and for his concern for the underprivileged. Architecture loses its specific societal task and responsibility, architectural innovation is replaced by the demonstration of noble intentions and the discipline’s criteria of success and excellence dissolve in the vague do-good-feel-good pursuit of ‘social justice’. I respect was Alejandro Aravena is doing and his “half a good house” developments are an intelligent response. However, this is not the frontier where architecture and urban design participate in advancing the next stage of our global high density urban civilisation. I would not object to this year’s choice half as much if this safe and comforting validation of humanitarian concern was not part of a wider trend in contemporary architecture that in my view signals an unfortunate confusion, bad conscience, lack of confidence, vitality and courage about the discipline’s own unique contribution to the world.

So this  is  not, Schumacher believes, what architecture should be about. As  Catherine Slessor perceptively tweeted ‘And what would Sir like with his cup of vitriol?’  Still, at least this is a conversation about what architecture should be ABOUT. Which can’t be bad.

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