The #MeToo movement and allegations against Richard Meier should push us to rethink how we evaluate architectural merit.
In April, following the New York Times’s reports that Pritzker laureate Richard Meier had been accused by former employees of incidents, spanning many years, of sexual harassment and assault, Metropolis emailed the Pritzker Architecture Prize asking if it would reconsider the decision to let Meier’s honor stand. In answer, Metropolis received a statement from the prize’s spokesperson. It read:
“Richard Meier was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1984, based on his architectural merit at that time. We do not comment on the personal lives of our Laureates, but do consider all sexual allegations to be serious, as abusive behavior towards any individual is unacceptable.”
The statement is a deeply troubling misrepresentation of a professional matter as one of out-of-sight-out-of-mind “personal life.” Some of the incidents, after all, are alleged to have occurred in RMPA’s offices or under the guise of work responsibilities, and cannot be divorced from Meier’s professional conduct. We must therefore consider the allegations to concern Meier’s “architectural merit,” understood not only to include buildings and ideas for which Meier is well known, but also the processes, relationships, and work environments that Meier, as head of RMPA, created, oversaw, and sanctioned.
It’s time to phase out the individual architect’s prize (like the Pritzker or AIA Gold Medal in their current forms) in favor of ones that honor practices and projects (like the RIBA Stirling Prize or AIA Architecture Firm Award, for example). In doing so, we might learn of behind-the-scenes, team-based, and process-related innovations that would benefit the profession as a whole, and inform projects to come. These are the kinds of practices that, swapped amongst architects over happy hour, already garner praise and respect within the professional community. But they are poorly understood and appreciated as architectural work by the general design-loving public.
Such a shift should not diminish the shine of the many deserving architects who have already received the Pritzker Prize (and its $100,000 award)—yesterday bestowed to Balkrishna Doshi. If anything, it would buoy the reputation of future laureates by honoring the full responsibilities of their jobs. It would avoid celebrating architects who run toxic workplaces and are unsupportive of minorities and women (all at the expense of the architecture as a profession). In fact, it would shine more of a spotlight on the contributions of members of the team who might not otherwise be recognized, paving the way for their advancement, and help erode the grossly unbalanced power dynamic in some firms headed by a (typically white male) starchitect. The Pritzker, after all, was founded to help incentivize “greater creativity within the architectural profession.”
The profession is chock full of creativity; it’s time to incentivize professionalism.