Since it was created in 2003, the Richard H. Driehaus Prize has functioned as a glittery riposte to the better-known and more established Pritzker Prize. Both honor architects, both reward career achievement, and both deliver a handsome purse—Pritzker winners receive $100,000, while Driehaus laureates receive twice that. But they honor very different kinds of architects, and serve very different aesthetic and cultural agendas.
This year’s winner of the Driehaus Prize is David M. Schwarz, a Washington-based architect who works in a conservative, contextually sensitive style. Schwarz has had a large impact on Washington’s cityscape, though you might not notice it. His buildings tend to blend in, borrowing bits and pieces of the surrounding architectural vocabulary, with lots of brick, and classically inflected elements that appear to some timeless, to others merely bland. A project he designed at 1718 Connecticut Avenue is characteristic of his style. On top, and decorously set back from the street, the bulk of the building looks to be an homage to the 19th century Washington architect Adolf Cluss, perhaps inspired by one of his prominent brick school buildings. Directly fronting the street are what appear to be a concatenation of smaller row houses, with detailed brick work and mansard roofs. Like most commercial architecture in this city of sky-high property values, the building has a lot of bulk, and a lot space; but it is relatively modest in its presence and Schwarz has worked hard to break it down into smaller pieces that fit well into the existing streetscape.
Winners of the Pritzker Prize tend to be flashier, ranging over a wider range of architectural styles, embodying various aesthetic and design philosophies. Pritzker winners include rigorous modernists, spiritual minimalists, innovators with materials, and blue-chip servants of the world’s most elite patrons, always looking for something eye-catching and iconic. The Driehaus Prize, by contrast, reflects the aesthetic preferences of its eponymous founder, a Chicago-based fund manager and philanthropist who champions classical architectural. It has also honored proponents of the New Urbanism—the return to walkable, human-scaled cities often with a traditionalist design bent—and architects who are skilled at complicated historical preservation projects. Driehaus has personally taken a lead role in attacking the designs of Frank Gehry for a new memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, planned for an empty lot just south of Independence Avenue along the National Mall.
Also announced today—and perhaps even more significant in the work and legacy it honors—is the $50,000 Henry Hope Reed Award, another Driehaus honor given to “an individual working outside the practice of architecture who has supported the cultivation of the traditional city, its architecture and art.” This year’s winner is Dr. Richard Jackson, who has worked tirelessly for decades to document and mitigate the public health impacts of urban sprawl and bad—or nonexistent—urban planning. As head of the National Center for Environmental Health, and later as a senior advisor to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jackson has had an enormous impact on how people think about the built environment, underscoring the physical and social toll of living in sprawling, car-oriented communities that lack access to basic urban amenities, fresh air, exercise and social cohesion.
Both prizes, which are given in conjunction with the University of Notre Dame, will be delivered at an awards ceremony in Chicago on March 21.