The 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize has been awarded to the Japanese architecture duo of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, who lead the firm SANAA. They join Kenzo Tange, Fumihiko Maki, and Tadao Ando as Japanese practitioners who have become Pritzker laureates. Best known to American observers are the pair's 2006 Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, in Ohio, and the 2007 New Museum of Contemporary Art, in New York.
Sejima (born in 1956) and Nishizawa (born in 1966) are among the youngest winners of the award—although their built body of work around the world is larger than some previous winners at the time of the award. SANAA's work is generally clear, simple, and refined. The Glass Pavilion in Toledo sits in a park setting and makes earlier iconic glass structures by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson look downright heavy. The New Museum shakes up the boxlike form of lower Manhattan's buildings by expressing each gallery as a discrete form that becomes a poetic assemblage legible to every pedestrian.
This is only the second time that architectural partners have received the prize; the first were 2001 laureates Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. Speculation at the time was that multiple winners might become the norm, as architectural practice evolved into more-collaborative ventures. The gap of nine years leaves that trend possible, but hardly a certainty.
Two American institutions have proved prescient in their choice of future laureates. The Toledo Museum of Art hired both Frank Gehry (the 1989 Prizker Prize winner) and SANAA for projects in advance of their honors. The Illinois Institute of Technology held a 1997 competition for a new campus center—which resulted in future laureate Rem Koolhaas' (2000) first American building. The also-rans in that competition included Zaha Hadid (2004) and SANAA.
The award—$100,000 and bronze medallions—will be formally presented to Sejima and Nishizawa on May 17 at New York's Ellis Island.