Thom Mayne, the 2005 Pritzker Prize
Architecture Laureate, is the first American to win the prize in 14 years. Head of the firm Morphosis in Santa Monica,
he was startled at the news, for he's known as an outsider in his field. Mayne sees the prize as a mandate to keep agitating.
The name of his firm suggests constant change; he likes to push hard.
He says "There is no singular idea of what is beautiful. I'm a problem-solver. I'm not there to agree with people, but to
articulate a point of view."
Only in recent years has the idiosyncratic designer gained visibility
with large-scale projects. That's not to say his work is always popular. He came out on top in the Alaska Capitol design competition,
but some Juneau leaders complain that his dome looks like a boiled egg.
His first influential project was the Crawford House in Montecito,
California, with redwood totems topped with skylights. Then he tackled the 1.2 million-square-foot CalTrans headquarters in
Los Angeles. He cantilevered the upper floors and mechanized the building's perforated skin to adjust to the light throughout
the day and become transparent at night.
In Manhattan's Cooper Union he crisscrossed the central atrium with sky
bridges. In a New York Times review by architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, Mayne was praised for his social optimism and
"enthusiasm for the congestion and dynamism on with cities thrive."
Other break-through projects are the Federal Building in San Francisco
and the Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, California– where he set rows of fragmented buildings on either side of
a long canyon-like sidewalk.
He's left his architectural mark in Austria, Taipei, Taiwan, and South
Korea. Besides lots of residences and office buildings, he's working on the Cahill Center for Astrophysics at Cal Tech, an
Olympic Village in Queens, New York, a housing project in Madrid, and, yes, there's that Alaska dome, to be completed in time
for the state's 50th birthday. The busy guy also teaches at UCLA.
He got his architecture degree form USC in 1968 and began his career
as an urban planner. With five other architects, he formed a new school, the Southern California Institute of Architecture
(SCI-Arc), and then started up Morphosis.
The Pritzker jury said "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.
"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."
The Pritzker prize comes with a $100,000 grant and a bronze medal,
which Mayne received on May 31 in Chicago's Millennium Park. The ceremony took place in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, named for
the founder of the prize and designed by Frank Gehry (who won the prize in 1989). Gehry says he doesn't think of Mayne as
an insurgent so much as an individual. "He's a really authentic architect. He's developed his own space and language."
Photo: Mayne's acclaimed Diamond Ranch High School.