KAZUYO Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, partners in the architectural firm, SANAA, have been chosen as the 2010 Laureates of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The Pritzker Prize, considered the highest honour in architecture, is regarded by many as equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

2010 Pritzker Architecture prize winners Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima. (Photo by Takashi Okamoto, courtesy SANAA.)Pritzker Prize jury chairman, The Lord Palumbo quoted from the jury citation to focus on this year’s selection: “For architecture that is simultaneously delicate and powerful, precise and fluid, ingenious but not overly or overtly clever; for the creation of buildings that successfully interact with their contexts and the activities they contain, creating a sense of fullness and experiential richness; for a singular architectural language that springs from a collaborative process that is both unique and inspirational; for their notable completed buildings and the promise of new projects together, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa are the recipients of the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize.”

While most of their work is in Japan, Sejima and Nishizawa have designed projects in Germany, England, Spain, France, the Netherlands and the US, under their combined name SANAA. The first SANAA project in the US began construction in 2004 in Ohio — a Glass Pavilion for the Toledo Museum of Art. Completed in 2006, it houses the museum’s vast collection of glass artworks, reflecting the city’s history when it was a major centre of glass production.

Glass Pavilion, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. (Photos by Hisao Suzuki, courtesy SANAA.)While that building was still under construction, the New Museum of New York City broke ground in 2005. Completed in 2007, the building has been described as “a sculptural stack of rectilinear boxes dynamically shifted off-axis around a central steel core.” The jury citation specifically mentions these projects as well as two projects in Japan: “the O-Museum in Nagano and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa.” The Ogasawara Museum was one of their first projects together.

The formal ceremony will be held on May 17, 2010 on Ellis Island in New York. At that time, a $100,000 grant and bronze medallions will be bestowed on the two architects. This marks the third time in the history of the prize that two architects have been named in the same year.

The De Kunstline Theater and Cultural Center in Almere, the Netherlands, and a more recent Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne, Switzerland are also major projects of SANAA. Other works in Japan include the Naoshima Ferry Terminal and the Christian Dior Building in Tokyo. In Essen, Germany, in 2006, the Zollverein School of Management and Design was inaugurated in a new building designed by SANAA on an historical coal mining site. The building is described as an oversized cube with an unusual arrangement of openings and windows of four different sizes.

New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York City. (Photos by Hisao Suzuki, courtesy SANAA.)The Serpentine Pavilion in London, their first built project in the United Kingdom, was in place for three months on the gallery’s lawn — the ninth such commission in the Serpentine’s series of pavilions. In Valencia, Spain, SANAA provided a unique expansion solution to IVAM (Valencian Institute of Modern Art) in which their existing building housing eight galleries will be completely enclosed by a translucent skin covering an entire block, and thus creating new indoor/outdoor public spaces between the building and the skin. The proposed skin is a light weight perforated metal that allows daylight, wind and rain to pass through. Construction has not yet begun. Both architects have extensive lists of completed works and projects as individual architects.

The Rolex Learning Center, Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne, Switzerland. (Photos by Hisao Suzuki, courtesy SANAA.)Upon learning that she was being honoured, Kazuyo Sejima had this reaction: “I have been exploring how I can make architecture that feels open, which I feel is important for a new generation of architecture. With this prize I will continue trying to make wonderful architecture.” And a similar reaction from Ryue Nishizawa: “Every time I finish a building I revel in possibilities and at the same time reflect on what has happened. Each project becomes my motivation for the next new project.”

For more than 15 years, the two architects have worked together in their collaborative partnership, SANAA, where it is virtually impossible to untangle which individual is responsible for what aspect of a particular project. Each building is ultimately a work that comes from the union of their two minds. Their architecture explores the ideas of lightness and transparency and pushes the boundaries of these concepts to new extremes.

Naoshima Ferry Terminal, Japan. (Photo by Hisao Suzuki, courtesy SANAA.)The field of architecture was chosen by the Pritzker family because of their keen interest in building due to their involvement with developing the Hyatt Hotels around the world; also because architecture was a creative endeavour not included in the Nobel Prizes. The procedures were modelled after the Nobels, with the final selection being made by the international jury with all deliberations and voting in secret. Nominations are continuous from year to year with hundreds of nominees from countries all around the world being considered each year.