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About the 2024 Pritzker Prize

By Miguel Saraiva, CEO & Founder and Leader Architect S+A

About two weeks ago, the 2024 Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious global award in Architecture, was announced. This year’s winner was the Japanese architect Riken Yamamoto, at the respectable age of 78.
Despite being born in Beijing, People’s Republic of China, in 1945, Riken Yamamoto moved to Yokohama, Japan, in the same year, shortly after the end of World War II, identifying himself as a Japanese architect.
In the 45-year history of the Pritzker Prize, Japanese architects have won the distinction more times than any other nationality, with Riken Yamamoto being the ninth architect to win the award.
As a citizen, and with particular emphasis since completing my university studies in Architecture, I have followed with keen interest and enthusiasm the works of the various laureates, which always serve as a source of knowledge, inspiration, and improvement of professional practice.
Established in 1979, the Pritzker Prize is awarded annually by the Hyatt Foundation, based in Chicago, United States, as a philanthropic foundation established by the Pritzker family.
The Pritzker family is one of the wealthiest families in America, involved in the hospitality sector and various other areas. Nicholas Pritzker (1871-1957), patriarch of the Pritzker family, was a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine. It is curious that a prize aimed at generously contributing to the improvement of the human condition and humanity had its origins with a Ukrainian personality, a country presently afflicted by war and in great need of humanity.
The Pritzker Prize is awarded annually to honor an architect or team of living architects whose work reflects a combination of talent, vision, and commitment and constitutes a significant contribution to humanity and the environment.
The Pritzker Prize is commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize of Architecture. Established in 1901 and a significant reference in the life of the international community, the Nobel Prize recognizes individuals who make valuable contributions to humanity in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology (Medicine), Economic Sciences, Literature, and Peace.
Speaking of awards and architects, as a curiosity, the Nobel Prize has been awarded to an architect, Argentine human rights activist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980.
Returning to the 2024 Pritzker Prize, despite his age, Yamamoto continues to practice architecture professionally, with works built in Japan, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, and Switzerland. The architect has undertaken various types of work, including urban planning, residential developments, offices, university buildings and schools, libraries, museums, and other structures.
In addition to the Pritzker Prize, Yamamoto has received numerous other distinctions throughout his career, with transparency being highlighted in his works in form, material, and philosophy.
As stated on the official Pritzker Prize website, Yamamoto is a staunch advocate of community life, stating that community members should support each other. He further states that “large housing projects also incorporate relational elements, ensuring that even residents living alone do not live in isolation.”
As Yamamoto mentions, “the current architectural approach emphasizes privacy (…). However, we can still honor the freedom of each individual while living together in architectural space (…), promoting harmony between cultures and life stages (…). One of the things we need most for the future of cities is to create conditions through architecture that multiply opportunities for people to gather and interact.”
The jury for this year’s Pritzker Prize was chaired by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, whom I had the privilege of hosting recently at a conference held in my studio, himself a Pritzker Prize laureate in 2016 and an indispensable figure in the world of architecture, particularly in the areas of low-cost housing.
As Alejandro Aravena remarks about Yamamoto, “he is a reassuring architect who brings dignity to everyday life. Normality becomes extraordinary. Calm leads to splendor.”
On the other hand, Tom Pritzker, president of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize, further states that “Yamamoto develops a new architectural language that not only creates spaces for families to live but also creates communities for families to live together (…). His works are always connected to society, nurturing a spirit of generosity and honoring the human moment.”
As we know, awards always have a political component, in the sense that their promoters bring up current issues they want to see addressed and discussed. And there is no doubt that the need for harmonious societies, focused on the idea of common life despite the differences in identity and socioeconomic status of their inhabitants, is a fundamental and structuring theme in the societies in which we live.
Solidarity and support for those most in need constitute a huge challenge for modern societies. It involves promoting an approach centered on human rights and the realization of human dignity, facilitating the inclusion and integration of all into society, and reducing inequalities.
In times of enormous challenges, such as the ones we are facing, it is especially relevant to question and consider how we are creating and planning inclusive territories. In this context, it is essential to address the significant issue of housing, centered on people, so that no one has to remain on the streets due to lack of alternatives. It is crucial to develop more housing at affordable prices for all social strata.
Housing has been a beloved area in my activity for many years, where architecture’s clear mission is to improve people’s living experience and comfort, interacting with their surroundings in a more sustainable manner.
It is also relevant to assess whether the available financing and planning instruments are suitable for existing needs. New legislative reforms, such as the Urban Simplification (Decree-Law No. 10/2024, of January 8, 2024), aim to make a useful contribution to this challenge. Indeed, the legislation that recently came into force aims to continue advancing in housing matters, creating conditions for more available housing at affordable costs. It also realizes one of the fundamental axes of the measures envisaged under the “More Housing” Program, responding to the need to provide more land for affordable housing but also to simplify procedures in the field of urban planning and territorial ordering.
It is crucial for the new government to have the capacity to implement effective measures to solve the housing problem so that all Portuguese citizens have access to decent housing.

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