The 2016 Gold Medal decision addresses decades-old sexist affronts, in which Scott Brown was rejected as Venturi’s co-recipient for the Gold Medal and the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The husband-and-wife team has been of epochal influence and ought to have been a shoo-in, but was denied because both programs stipulated a single winner. Instead, Venturi was offered the two awards without Scott Brown. He declined the Gold Medal but did accept the Pritzker in 1991 because of its $100,000 purse and its value in helping win commissions. Understandably, Scott Brown skipped the ceremony in protest.
The Pritzker rule seems to have changed since then. Jacques Herzog, Hon. FAIA, and Pierre de Meuron, Hon. FAIA, won together in 2001, and Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa did so in 2010. Yet a 2013 petition led by Harvard graduate students Arielle Assouline-Lichten and Caroline James to retroactively add Scott Brown to Venturi’s laureateship went nowhere. Jury chair Peter Palumbo explained why in a response letter: “A later jury cannot re-open, or second guess the work of an earlier jury, and none has ever done so.”
Days after the Pritzker jury rejected the petition, the AIA board voted to amend the requirements for the Gold Medal, making it winnable by two recipients practicing together. The effort, spearheaded by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates principal Jill N. Lerner, FAIA, who was president of AIA New York at the time, cleared the way for the joint Scott Brown and Venturi win—and implicitly (and deservedly, I think) rebuked the Pritzker jury for its obstinacy.
The AIA’s other big move, the equity commission, emerged from a resolution sponsored by the San Francisco and California chapters. Its aim is to jump-start diversification—in the wake of many well-intentioned but insufficiently productive efforts in the past—and “advance the ratio of underrepresented populations in the profession.” Those familiar with the statistics will understand the necessity. Architecture remains an overwhelmingly straight, white, male, and Christian enterprise, in a nation that is increasingly less so. The commission has its work cut out for it, and deserves our wholehearted support.
Diversity has absolute value. Sheen S. Levine of the University of Texas at Dallas and David Stark of Columbia University concluded so after exhaustive research. In a recent op-ed piece in the The New York Times, they wrote, “Diversity improves the way people think. By disrupting conformity, racial and ethnic diversity prompts people to scrutinize facts, think more deeply, and develop their own opinions.” Diversification is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. Architecture will be better for it.