Philip Johnson, the celebrated 72-year-old architect, who was instrumental in bringing modern architecture to America, yesterday won the first Pritzker Architecture Prize.
The prize, donated by Jay Pritzker of the Hyatt Hotel chain and his family, consists of a $100,000 cash award and a small Henry Moore sculpture.
The Pritzker family and their Hyatt Foundation are said to be planning similar international awards in other fields, such as philosophy, somewhat like the Nobel Prize.
Johnson's dramatic change from stark "less-is-more" architecture to ecletic, flamboyant and historic forms has won him a flurry of awards, publicity and commissions lately. Among the awards he received last year was the coveted gold medal of the American Institute of Architects.
This year's Pritzker architecture award jury was headed by Sir Kenneth Clark, the art historian of televisions's Civilisation" fame. Other jury members were J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery; Cesar Pelli, dean of architecture at Yale; J. Irwin Miller, the businessman who brought so many modern architects to Columbus, Ind., his hometown, that it has become a living modern museum; and Arata Isozaki, a young Japanese architect who just had an exhibition at New York's Cooper-Hewitt museum.
Secretary of the jury is Carleton Smith, previously associated with the Howard Hughes Wildlife Fund. The more than 200 submissions from 50 countries were nominated by selected architecture critics, public officials and academics. The nominations were prescreened by Arthur Drexler, director of architecture of New York's Museum of Modern Art, where the prize was announced yesterday.
The Pritzker award is given to "a living architect or architectural group whose work demonstrates a combination of the talent, vision and commitment that has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the environment."
The purpose of this new international prize as Pritzker put it, is to broaden public awareness of the importance of architecture to the quality of life.
Accepting the award, Johnson quipped: "I got it because I'm old," but then hastened to add, "I am, of course, also a genius."
Until last week, Johnson's most controversial building design is for the AT&T headquarters skyscraper in New York City. It shows a Beaux Arts facade and will enliven the Manhattan skyline with a roof in the shape of a broken, Renaissance-style pediment.
Now this "Chippendale" skyscraper is topped by Johnson's just-announced Pittsburgh Plate Glass Corp. headquarterhs building. The design shows a Gothic castle, stretched to skyscraping heights, topped with pinnacles and covered by mirror glass.
"It will be built and it will be damn good," said Johnson.