Pritzker Prize University

remkWith the recent passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a proliferation of debates has ensued; however, recent revelations regarding Scalia’s views on diversity have gotten lost within Ted Cruz’s impractical filibustering. Most people viewed Scalia as a radical right-wing conservative. A Cliven Bundy character, caught in a standoff in opposition to governmental intervention. However, Antoni Scalia understood a liberal president wouldn’t appoint another justice with similar ideologies as himself, and seemed to even thrive off of opposite opinions. He (secretly) encouraged the appointment of Elena Kagan, and had a friendly relationship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Scalia seemingly believed that brilliant peers with alternate viewpoints are more stimulating than daily interactions with the status quo.

It appears that there is a lot of diversity on the current Supreme Court (3 women, 1 Hispanic, 1 African-American). However, Scalia also promoted diversity within educational backgrounds. It is a bewildering fact that all 9 justices attended either Harvard Law School or Yale Law School. Indeed, there are over 200 law schools in the United States, but to reach the pinnacle of the profession your choice of law schools is limited to two. 

My father once quipped his disapproval of tattoos by referencing, “You don’t see Supreme Court Justices with tattoos.” Apparently, being a Supreme Court Justice is the greatest thing one can accomplish in their lifetime.1 But I never realized to become a Supreme Court Justice there are basic thresholds to accomplish: Attend Harvard or Yale, and become an editor on their respective law journal.

Even Barack Obama fits this description, as he attended Harvard Law School and become Editor of the Harvard Law Review in 1990.

Elena Kagan
  ●     Harvard Law School      Supervisory editor of the Harvard Law Review
Sonia Sotomayor
  ●     Yale Law School     Editor at the Yale Law Journal
John Roberts
  ●     Harvard Law School     Managing editor of the Harvard Law Review
Anthony Kennedy
  ●     Harvard Law School
Clarence Thomas
  ●     Yale Law School
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  ●     Harvard & Columbia Law School     Both Harvard and Columbia Law Reviews
Stephen Breyer
  ●     Harvard Law School     Articles Editor of the Harvard Law Review
Samuel Alito
  ●     Yale Law School     Editor on the Yale Law Journal
Antonin Scalia
  ●     Harvard Law School     Notes Editor of the Harvard Law Review

Therefore, I wondered, to reach the height of the architectural profession, does your alma mater matter?2

The height of the architectural profession is mostly associated with recipients of the Pritzker Prize. 

Ridiculous tangents from Antonin Scalia to Rem Koolhaas might seem like a stretch, but in the game of 6 Degrees of Separation – there is only 1. Stephen Breyer (a Supreme Court Justice) is on the Pritzker Prize Selection Committee. Apparently Stephen Breyer is a big architectural fan, and even wrote a book on Courthouse design.3 Perhaps he included the alternative uses of courthouses today. In Bozeman, court is no longer held in the Court House. All the courts are in a converted school with an awkward entrance. Courthouses are nowadays often just document storage facilities – and long lines to get automobile license plates.

You may think that I’m comparing apples to lawyers. Of the 39 Pritzker Prize Laureates, I could only find 10 that attended University in the United States. Strictly American justices compared to a global selection pool of architects appears to be incongruent, but perhaps that is the point. With an ever-increasing global economy, diversity within the profession becomes even broader.

To be fair, I initially thought about using the AIA Gold Medal as a comparison, but I don’t attribute that award to the greatest architect – or the ultimate ascent within the profession. Plus, the American Institute of Architects’ highest award is not even limited to American architects either.

However, analyzing strictly United States Architecture schools, there is very little recurrence between Pritzker Prize Laureates and their alma mater(s).


1982    Kevin Roche
  ●     Illinois Institute of Technology
1983    I.M. Pei
  ●     Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Bachelors), Harvard University (Masters)
1984    Richard Meier
  ●     Cornell (Bachelors)
1985    Hans Hollein
  ●     Illinois Institute of Technology, University of California – Berkeley (Masters)
1988    Gordon Bunshaft
  ●     Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Masters)
1989    Frank Gehry
  ●     University of Southern California
1991    Robert Venturi
  ●     Princeton University
199?    Denise Scott Brown4
  ●     University of Pennsylvania
2005    Thom Mayne
  ●     University of Southern California (Bachelors), Harvard University (Masters)
2007    Richard Rogers
  ●     Yale School of Architecture (Masters)
2014    Shigeru Ban
  ●     Cooper Union’s School of Architecture (Masters)

I was initially a little perplexed by this data. Unlike members of SCOTUS, there is very little overlap. Indeed, there is no University that breeds Pritzker Prize Laureates. But I always thought this concept would be awesome to contemplate.

The campus at Pritzker Prize University would be similar to the new Google Headquarters – large bubble domes with interactive spaces. At PPU, everyone would call Eduardo Elísio Machado Souto de Moura, simply Eddie. A stroll through the coffee shop would witness Rem Koolhaas and Thom Mayne having a staring contest – while sipping cappuccinos. And Frank Gehry, standing nearby, would be “giving the bird” to a barista, because “98% of the coffee she makes is shit.”

Flipping through the PPU yearbook would yield even further fun facts:

At Pritzker Prize University, Peter Zumthor is Valedictorian.

Rem Koolhaas is Class President.

Zaha Hadid is voted Best Dressed.

Bjarke Ingels is voted Biggest Flirt, and his yearbook is filled with girl’s phone numbers. Other passages reveal that Bjarke was the guy who constantly made unwarranted sexual advances towards women – yet nobody cared because he was the cool kid.

Toyo Ito is voted Teacher’s pet – and gets Bjarke expelled from Pritzker Prize University because Bjarke was trespassing – it turns out his application was never accepted.

After 2 semesters at PPU Shigeru Ban was discovered to be homeless, and had been living in cardboard boxes on campus.

Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa are BOTH voted Most Likely to Succeed.

Alejandro Aravena thinks his education is worthless, and drops out with 1 credit left to complete his degree.

Denise Scott Brown showed up at graduation, but the admissions department mixed up her academic records with Alejandro Aravena’s. Instead of correcting a wrong, they said there was nothing they could do, and she would instead finish 1 credit shy of graduating.

Ultimately, it’s a good that Pritzker Prize University doesn’t exist. If an esteemed education was required to be a successful architect, then international architects would predominantly go to Harvard or The Architectural Association (UK) – and everyone who wasn’t admitted would never become as successful. But this makes sense. Great architecture isn’t based upon having the best math grades. There is no one correct answer – architecture is problem-solving with design solutions. If every architect went to the same school, had the same teachers, and similar influences – diversity would be stifled and innovative architecture would prove to be more difficult.

Studies have shown that diverse workplaces stimulate more creativity; however, Antonin Scalia showed us that diversity goes beyond sex or race. Diversity in architectural education is a positive thing. Hiring people who are from the same alma mater, who have the same hobbies, or who have the same social circles stifles diversity. Therefore, if Pritzker Prize Laureates attended different Universities, shouldn’t we limit the importance of issuing annual rankings to the BEST design schools?

Psychology Professor Herbert Marsh (Oxford) posited a theory called The Big Fish-‐Little Pond effect. Whereas, the top 95% of students get accepted to Harvard. Therefore, if you are in the bottom half of your class at Harvard you still are in the top percentile nationwide. Yet, people only compare themselves to their local peers. It is better to attend another University where you will be the big fish in a smaller pond.

If you are the smartest architect in the world you will thrive at Harvard. But if you are not named Remmant Koolhaas, you would likely become more successful elsewhere.

This is why I have an issue with these yearly publications, such as Design Intelligence, listing America’s BEST Architecture schools. The best school for who? 

Antonin Scalia embraced educational diversity in a profession reliant upon historical precedent. Shouldn’t architecture further embrace diversity in a profession focused on designing and improving the built environment? Architecture is more reliant on relationships, than education. Therefore, hiring managers need to hire architects based upon talent. Not based upon sex. Not based upon race. And, even, not based upon their alma mater.5




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1 I secretly was hoping an autopsy of Scalia would reveal that he had an American Flag tattoo across the entirety of his back.
2 That’s a tongue-twister!
3 Interestingly enough, Antonin Scalia and Rem Koolhaas are BOTH only separated from Kevin Bacon by 3 degrees. (Google “Bacon Number”)
4 Yes, I am fully aware that the Pritzker Prize committee has not righted a wrong after the fact (Unlike the AIA Gold Medal Award). But I felt like recognizing Denise Scott Brown anyways.
5 Except if it’s Montana State University. Smiley Face :)

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