Interview with Thom Mayne - Morphosis
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Interview with Thom Mayne


Edited By Alessandra Orlandoni - 8 January 2010

Alessandra Orlandoni - A year ago you received the Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious accolade for an architect, and for unflinching commitment to research and innovation in architecture. The ceremony was held in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry. The last American architect to win the award was Robert Venturi, whose theories inspired by Las Vegas still impact architecture today. What has this prize meant to you?
Thom Mayne - You’ve got the speech I gave on accepting the award, right? It’s got everything I believe was important to say.

(from page 3) “...To me, the city is the most profound creation of humanity, continuously changing, evolving, mysterious and therefore in important ways unknowable. In its lack of fixity, in the unthinkable number of its random interactions, exchanges, encounters, in the sheer magnitude of the variety of intelligences, here rests the potential of a true creativity where serendipity and spontaneous combustion take place. This, I believe, is why cities are the stronghold of our liberal tradition in this country. Our cities are the location of continuous regeneration, places of infinite possibilities, demanding from us an attitude of expansiveness. Yet we seem to find ourselves, in this first decade of the 21st century, infused by fear, immobilized by the complexity of the realities that come with living in the present, the now, insisting instead on seeing our diverse society through a simplistic lens, resistive to reality, demanding uniformity in the face of diversity.
And the refuge, as its always been within these cycles, is in nostalgia, a desire for an illusion of order, consistency and safety, qualities we last enjoyed in childhood.
This is temporary. I’ve lived during periods of great cultural expansion and optimism. I’ve felt the intoxication that happens when an entire generation decides to stop looking backward for its direction. I see in this pavilion, in the work of my peers a harbinger of better things, a fierce optimism about looking forward.
Isn’t it always this way? One looks to the artists to remind us that we are all moving forward, empowered and able.
I’m chasing an architecture that engages and demands inquiry. Architecture is not passive, not decorative. It is essential, it affects us directly and profoundly - it has the potential to impact behaviour and the quality of everyday life.
As architects, our work is embedded with our values: we cannot escape society’s layered problems. Early in our careers, we start with smaller works, which allows us to tune our artistic skills and hone our internal aesthetic. At this early point these values are implicit. As the work grows in magnitude and becomes directly engaged with a broader range of issues - for me this has happened in the past five years - the embedded values become more explicit, and the contribution to society, more substantial.
The Pritzker prize recognizes the power of architecture to shape our lives and it helps empower not only its recipients but all architects to impact society. In this way it brings honor but more importantly responsibility. I am so deeply humbled to receive this prize, I accept it with huge happiness, with pride, and with a deep sense of responsibility. I am honored that my work has been deemed deserving of such recognition, and that my name will join others whom I so much admire.
You’ve given me this prize as a young architect. And herein lays my challenge: to bring honor to the Pritzker Prize in my future endeavours.
That is exactly what I intend to do.

Alessandra Orlandoni 

Thank you”*

*Speech by Thom Mayne on the occasion of the awarding for the Pritzker Prize, May 31, 2005, Jay Pritzker Pavillion, Chicago

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