No,29 : Thomas Mayne,Pritzker Prize 2005
Architectural Tour Network
Thomas Mayne,Pritzker Prize 2005  

Thom Mayne, who has been called the bad boy and angry young man of Los Angeles architecture, will be named today as the winner of this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the profession's highest honor. Mr. Mayne, 61, is the first American to win the prize in 14 years.

"I've been such an outsider my whole life," he said in a telephone interview from his office at Morphosis, his firm in Santa Monica, Calif. "It's just kind of startling."

Given his reputation as a maverick, Mr. Mayne's selection as this year's Pritzker laureate would seem to signal his induction into the establishment. Indeed, that shift would seem to have begun with his selection for three government projects now rising under the General Services Administration's program to promote "design excellence" in architecture: a glass federal office building in San Francisco that eliminates corner offices in favor of a democratic space, with city views for 90 percent of the workstations; a federal courthouse in Eugene, Ore., that elevates the courtrooms above a glass plinth; and a satellite facility, crowned with 16 antennas and partly submerged in the landscape, for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration outside Washington.

But Mr. Mayne said he saw the prize as a recognition of his iconoclastic approach - and as a mandate to keep agitating.

"I see this as a validation for architecture in general," he said, "and for me to push even harder."

To be sure, in its citation the Pritzker jury acknowledged Mr. Mayne's countercultural roots, calling him "a product of the turbulent 60's who has carried that rebellious attitude and fervent desire for change into his practice, the fruits of which are only now becoming visible in a group of large-scale projects."

Among those is his recent Caltrans District 7 building, a headquarters of the California Transportation Department in downtown Los Angeles. The hulking 1.2 million-square-foot building has cantilevered upper floors and a mechanized perforated skin that adjusts to the light throughout the day, becoming as transparent as glass at dusk.

Like the name of his firm, Morphosis, with its suggested embrace of constant change, Mr. Mayne's signature style has been difficult to pin down over the years. He became known in the 1980's for his ornamental restaurant renovations on the west side of Los Angeles; his first large-scale residence, the widely influential Crawford House in Montecito, Calif., featured redwood totems topped with skylights.

Yet recurring elements run through many Mayne buildings, like blocky jutting shapes, glass and metal, double skins, shifting degrees of light, curvilinear walls and elevators that skip stops.

In New York Mr. Mayne has designed a nine-story art and engineering building for Cooper Union in Manhattan and an Olympic Village in Hunters Point, Queens - a mixed-use waterfront development that is scheduled to go up whether or not the games come to New York in 2012. The Cooper Union building, to begin construction next year, features a central atrium crisscrossed by sky bridges; the Olympic Village preserves most of the site as parkland, with residential towers at the northern end and low-rise ribbonlike housing tilted at an angle toward the water. Reviewing the Cooper Union design, Nicolai Ouroussoff, the architecture critic for The New York Times, praised Mr. Mayne for his social optimism and "enthusiasm for the congestion and dynamism on which cities thrive."

The bands of windows he designed for Cooper Union echo those at Caltrans and the San Francisco federal building; the billboard-size letters adorning the courthouse in Eugene, Ore., echo a massive street number at Caltrans and the big letters labeling the graduate housing he built at the University of Toronto (completed in 2000).

Mr. Mayne described his style as idiosyncratic.

"The multiplicity of ideas is what I'm interested in," he said. "The hybrid in our society - where there is no singular idea of what is beautiful."

The Pritzker jury acknowledged this eclectic quality in its citation. "Mayne's approach toward architecture and his philosophy is not derived from European modernism, Asian influences or even from American precedents of the last century," it says. "He has sought throughout his career to create an original architecture, one that is truly representative of the unique, somewhat rootless, culture of Southern California, especially the architecturally rich city of Los Angeles."

Born in Waterbury, Conn., Mr. Mayne began his career as an urban planner after graduating with an architecture degree from the University of Southern California in 1968. Four years later, with five other architects, he formed a new school, the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), which aimed to bring to Los Angeles the critical attitude toward the profession that was being practiced at Cooper Union in New York and the Architectural Association in London. The school is still operating, although Mr. Mayne now teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Around the time of the founding of SCI-Arc, he founded an architectural firm with two school friends who were also teachers.

Mr. Ouroussoff has described Mr. Mayne's early works as "militaristic" and characterized by a "brooding aggression." That style was broken by his 1993 design of Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, Calif., one of his first major public commissions, with two rows of fragmented buildings set on either side of a long central sidewalk "canyon" and a monumental stairway embedded in the hillside that doubles as an amphitheater.

Mr. Mayne's other California projects include two medical office buildings on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, several distinctive private residences and the Cahill Center for Astrophysics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, currently under way.

His most recent commission, the result of a design competition, is for a new State Capitol building in Juneau, Alaska.

Internationally, Mr. Mayne designed the Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, a mixed-use bank headquarters in Klagenfurt, Austria; the ASE Design Center in Taipei, Taiwan; the Sun Tower in Seoul, South Korea; and a housing project to be completed next year in Madrid.

Mr. Mayne is only the eighth American to be honored since the Pritzker was first awarded, in 1979 to Philip Johnson. He is to receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion on May 31 in Chicago's Millennium Park in a ceremony in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, named for the founder of the prize and designed by the architect Frank Gehry, one of the Pritzker jurors, who won in 1989.

Mr. Gehry, who is based in Los Angeles, said he did not think of Mr. Mayne as an insurgent so much as an individual. "He's a really authentic architect," he said in an telephone interview. "He's developed his own space and language."

Mr. Mayne, too, questioned this persistent characterization of him as contrarian. "I think my clients would tell you I'm a problem solver," he said. "I'm not there to agree with people. I'm there to articulate a point of view."

"Am I insistent and tenacious?" he said. "Absolutely. I could not get this work done if I was not."

At the same time, Mr. Mayne added, experience has taught him the necessity - if not the art - of compromise. "I've grown up a little bit," he said. "I understand the importance of the negotiation. It is a collective act."

March 21, 2005

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