Rob Krier wins his Driehaus

Cité Judiciaire, Luxembourg designed by Rob Krier. (Wikipedia)

The architect and urban theorist Rob Krier is this year’s Driehaus Prize laureate. The first Driehaus Prize winner, two decades ago, was his brother, architect and urban theorist Leon Krier, who was also born in Luxembourg and is about eight years younger than his sibling.

Rob Krier (Notre Dame)

Also a winner, a very big winner and for some a surprise winner, is the Driehaus Prize itself, which appears to have survived, institutionally at Notre Dame University, the sad passing just last year of namesake Richard H. Driehaus.

Along with the 2022 Driehaus, the Henry Hope Reed Award goes to Wendell Berry, the celebrated novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural theorist and farmer who came out against war in 1973.

The Reed award was named for the arch-classicist Henry Hope Reed Jr., the first hero of the classical revival, who founded and presided for many years over the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, and whose pathbreaking 1959 book on modern architecture taught many that classical architecture was not dead. The Reed prize brings its recipient a generous $50,000; but the Driehaus prize brings its recipient $200,000. That’s twice what goes to a Pritzker Prize winner. Every Driehaus winner brings more than twice the happiness and beauty to the world than any Pritzker winner, however you stack them up against each other, even though – as an illustration of the mysterious ways of the lord – the Pritzker is far more celebrated in our culture, a telling sign of its decline. The real difference between the two award programs is probably incalculable.

With that in mind, this year’s Driehaus honors a laureate whose work equals the sum total, at least, of the work of all past Pritzker winners, 43 laureates thus far. Architect and urban theorist Andrés Duany, who with his wife Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk won the sixth Driehaus in 2008, reports that modernist architects are learning more from traditional architects than traditional architects are learning from modernist architects. Good! So maybe the gap (if his reporting is accurate) will diminish in future decades. Or centuries.

Stefanos Polyzoides, dean of Notre Dame’s famous classicist architecture school and chairman of this year’s prize jury, had this to say:

Rob Krier’s built work demonstrates a mastery of fine art, design and construction. He was one of the first of his generation to dedicate his architecture to the end of generating a harmonious urban fabric and a well-formed public realm in tandem. He paved the way for a return to the humanist ideal of seeking a civilized life in cities.

And the jury citation itself reads:

Through his engagement with a variety of urban settings, clients and types of projects, Krier has generated a diverse oeuvre that is steeped in the particulars of specific places: always responsive to local cultures, built heritage and environmental issues.

In both cases, isn’t this what architects are supposed to do?

Drawing for Den Haag Rivierenbuurt tower project, 2001. (courtesy of Lucien Steil)

It is a measure of how far architecture as a discipline has fallen in the past century that Driehaus laureates tend to get awards for doing what every architect ought to do, ought to be expected to do, and ought to be taught to do. And yet Notre Dame is the only university in the world with thoroughly and unabashed curricula that teach what architecture ought to obviously be about. Its graduates are much more likely to get employment as architeccts than modernists, even in a field where traditional architects still have a hard time finding clients other than rich people who want attractive homes. (Are there rich people who want ugly houses? Apparently so!)

This is sad. But it is changing for the better. Eventually, the field will wrap its head around the fact that two-thirds to three-quarters of the general public prefers traditional to modernist architecture. Good! But this is crazy. Who are the one-quarter to one-third of the public who prefer modern to traditional architecture? Who are these people? I have written a brief essay considering this question for another publication. Even if they do accept it, I will write an expanded treatment of the matter for this blog.

For now, I congratulate the brothers Krier for bookending the Driehaus prize’s first vicennial.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Rob Krier wins his Driehaus

  1. Pingback: Atlantis: Krier’s ideal village | Architecture Here and There

  2. Anonymous says:

    What an embarrassment for the Driehaus Prize. What on earth has Krier built of note? Just as it was starting to look like the Driehaus jury was beginning to break away from its early, shameful love for mediocre postmodernists, we get a resurgence of this junk. Meanwhile, the Pritzker continues a splendid streak of acknowledging architects who actually know how to make beautiful, humane buildings. The difference in quality could not be more stark, regardless of what the traditionalists, who apparently don’t have eyes, say.

    Forget the Driehaus – if you want quality classical architecture, the Ross Awards have always, always recognized better architects, even if they tend to stick to residential design. The Driehaus is utter garbage, characteristic of the New Classicism’s self-inflicted victim complex.

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    • FYI, “Anonymous,” the judicial complex in Luxembourg is better than all buildings designed by Pritzker laureates since its founding. Maybe recent Pritzker laureates design buildings that are more humane than earlier laureates, but that is a very, very, very low bar.

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  3. John the First says:

    “Who are the one-quarter to one-third of the public who prefer modern to traditional architecture?”

    My guess is that the institutional and corporate leaders of modern mass man prefer the (dehumanizing) modernism. Personally these individuals involved might prefer traditionalism (to live in themselves), but the modernist style is a ticket to pursue a career in high places, and a cultural symbol of the power a class.
    Modernism is the product of democratic mass man being lead by the engineers of society, the hyper-controlling ever more centralizing modern state, the hyper-controlling national and supra-national institutions, and the powerful globally operating corporations.

    The COVID situation, engineered by the controlling engineers produced a choreography of mass man, where institutionally controlled mass man had to distance themselves in equal measurements according to the recommendations of the controlling institutions of modern mass man. Also all wearing uniform masks.. (which covers a part of the human face, and as such hides individual characteristics, hence dehumanization). A choreography and masked ball which is comparable to the dehumanizing atmosphere, and the uniformism and rectilinearity of modernist architecture.
    Technocratic choreographed and masked people look much better in place in the atmosphere of modernist architecture, in dehumanizing settings (like modern shopping malls) whereas in traditionalist and characteristic settings it looks rather bizarre and alienating.

    To give another example of modernist top down control and engineering of society.
    In Belgium the people are traditionally very fond of building houses themselves, and of owning a free standing house. There is a wide spread of houses dispersed all over the country, instead of building compact cities. Under the banner of an alleged human caused climate change the green fanatics though have been trying to push a law to forbid the Belgians to build more houses dispersed over the country. These greens have been calculating that if people where stacked in cities, there would be far less traffic movements, and thus far less pollution allegedly causing climate change.
    So this is another example of top down engineering of human flows, the movements of people, comparable to that of the modernist city and society engineering pursued by the twentieth century architectural elite.

    The above are only a few examples out of many.

    Modernism in the broadest sense is really a ‘technocratic’ top down engineering of the whole of society, at the expense of what is individual, local, human scale, organic and characteristic. It has many expressions in many areas, and traditional architects and those in favour of traditional architecture might even be cooperating with one or more of these expression and developments, in as far as they do not operate from the bigger view, namely, that architecture is an expression of the whole of developments and the ways of ordering of society. Thus a simple division of who prefers modernist architecture, and who does not, who advocates for modernism, and who advocates for traditionalism isn’t going to tell you much.

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