Christian de Portzamparc will be celebrating his fiftieth birthday on May 5 (1994), an anniversary that will be made even more memorable by the fact that he has just been named the 1994 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. He is the seventeenth person and the sixth European to be so honored since The Hyatt Foundation established the award in 1979.

Highly respected by architectural cognoscente throughout the world, this relatively young French architect explains that he was “a designer who painted before he decided to study architecture.” While he still paints, he says, “I am not a painter or sculptor, yet.” He is however a frequent lecturer and author. Although he has no built works in the United States, he was one of the finalists in the competition for Chicago’s new Museum of Contemporary Art and an Art Museum for Omaha. Most recently he has gained recognition in Japan where he designed apartment buildings for the city of Fukuoka.

Most of his completed projects are in France, perhaps the most visible being the City of Music, a group of structures situated on the edge of the La Villette suburban park in Paris. The project actually has two phases. The first part, housing the National Conservatory of Music and Dance was completed in 1990. The second part with public spaces for concerts will open next January. Portzamparc says when he began work on the City of Music in 1984, his thoughts were carried back to a house in Brittany, the first thing he ever built, “In that design, each room was like a separate little house,” he says. “I have discovered that each new project is the sum of all my previous works. No new work springs to life without some relationship to past inspiration.”

President Mitterrand is credited with stimulating an architectural renaissance in France with his international competitions for new buildings in his country. He has made his position clear with the oft-quoted statement, “I believe that a people are great when their architecture is great.” Perhaps one of the most widely publicized of the Grands Projets has been the addition to the Louvre Museum by the 1983 Pritzker Laureate, Ieoh Ming Pei.

City of Music, known throughout Europe as one of the Grands Projets, has been praised in the architectural press around the world. Spain’s Interior Architecture and Design (Diseño Interior) magazine said of City of Music: “A building with lyric qualities, full of whiteness and opacity, it is the antithesis of the ethereal transparencies and other technological approaches so typical of the new French academicism.” The formal opening is scheduled for early in 1995.

When the City of Music project was just beginning, another of Portzamparc’s important projects was being completed and hailed as one of the best examples of contextualism in the city. It was the Erik Satie Conservatory of Music and Elderly Housing. This project, which he began in 1981 after winning a competition, has been described as being Post Modern, but the architect himself prefers not to be categorized, and he calls attention to his subsequent commissions as evidence of a much more personal style.

“When I was about 13, I had already become interested in art. But I remember seeing some sketches by Le Corbusier,” says Portzamparc, “and this stimulated my interests not only in art, but it started my thinking about architecture.” It is not surprising that this most famous of French architects has been an influence on a great many architects around the world, including some prior Pritzker Laureates, including Richard Meier and Kenzo Tange, who both cited Le Corbusier as their most important early influence.

Portzamparc began studying architecture in 1962 at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris, first under Eugène Beaudouin who encouraged his taste for formal expressionism, and then later under George Candilis who emphasized systematic work on grids and networks.

While still in school in 1966, he had second thoughts about a career in architecture. “Architecture seemed to me to be too bureaucratic, and not free enough compared to art; and the modernistic ideals which I worshiped before, seemed to me unable to reach the richness of real life. I also began to criticize my first influences like Le Corbusier.” During this time of reassessment, he traveled to New York. He spent nine months in the city, living in Greenwich Village, enjoying the artist’s life, mingling with writers, poets and other artists. “I read and wrote and met people,” he says, “I was fascinated by New York.”

When he finished his degree in 1969, he still did not start working as an architect immediately. “I became involved with a group that was studying how people interact with their neighborhoods, doing interviews and studying the buildings and why people liked to live in them and why they didn’t. These sociologists and psycho-sociologists suffered with the hundreds of people they were interviewing. I got a realistic idea of a concrete way to understand architecture as a social responsibility. This was after three years of political discussion about `architecture as an obsolete subject—a discipline unable to change the world.’ I came to realize that architecture might not be able to create utopia, but as an architect, I could help change things for the better.”

He continued the story, “So I quit my vanguard position of the sixties to try to work modestly on what appeared to me to be the great task of architecture: to make a small neighborhood successful, which seemed to be impossible after twenty years of reconstruction in Europe.” Even now, I always consider a building as a part of the whole, a piece which creates a collective performance, which is the city. At the same time, the building must also be a response to a client or user’s needs.”


Parisian Architect Is Named 1994 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Christian de Portzamparc, a 50 year-old French architect who lives and works in Paris, has been named the seventeenth Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The Hyatt Foundation jury described Portzamparc as "a powerful poet of forms and creator of eloquent spaces," in announcing him as the sixth European architect to be selected for his profession's highest honor.

Jay A. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, which established the award in 1979, will present Portzamparc with a $100,000 grant and a bronze medal at a ceremony to be held June 14 in Columbus, Indiana—a community that boasts more buildings by world-renowned architects than any other small town. In making the announcement, Pritzker praised the choice of the jury, saying, "Portzamparc is the first French architect to be so honored. It is not only a tribute to him as an individual, but an homage as well, to the great architectural traditions of France, and particularly Le Corbusier who has forever influenced architecture everywhere."

Bill Lacy, secretary to the international panel of jurors that elects the Laureate each year, quoted from the formal citation from the jury: "Christian de Portzamparc's new architecture is of our time, bound neither by classicism nor modernism. His expanded perceptions and ideas seek answers beyond mere style. He is a part of a new generation of French architects who have incorporated the lessons of the Beaux Arts into an exuberant collage of contemporary architectural idioms, at once bold, colorful and original." Lacy, who is an architect himself and president of the State University of New York at Purchase, elaborated, "Every architect who aspires to greatness must in some sense reinvent architecture; conceive new solutions; develop a special design character; find a new aesthetic vocabulary. Portzamparc has an unusually clear and consistent vision, devising highly original spaces that serve a variety of functions."

Portzamparc, who was born in Casablanca, Morocco while his father served in the French Army there, completed his architectural degree at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris in 1969. His first commission was for a water tower in a new community, Marne-La-Vallee, located approximately 20 miles east of Paris. The water tower is unique in that it has an outer skin offine mesh open trellis work covered with climbing plants, and is modeled after the Tower of Babel. Its location in the center of town at a crossroads makes it a focal point.

Most of his completed projects are in France, the most widely publicized being the City of Music, a new music academy in the Parisian suburban park, La Villette. It is one of the Grands Projets of President Mitterrand, a program of commissioning new buildings which has stimulated an architectural renaissance in his country. The first phase of the project was completed in 1991, and the final phase is scheduled to open in January.


Portzamparc has done other projects related to music: the Erik Satie Conservatory of Music and Elderly Housing, which has been hailed as one of Paris' best examples of contextualism; and the Dance School of the Paris Opera located in Nanterre.

He has built numerous other housing developments, one of the most notable being Hautes-Formes completed in 1979 in Paris. The project consists of seven residential blocks containing 210 apartments, with a central square and arcade. His first international project was completed in Japan in 1991, four residential apartment buildings in the city of Fukuoka, an experimental district where architects of different nationalities are designing all the structures.

Portzamparc already holds his own country's highest honors in his profession—the Medal of the French Academy of Architecture; the Grand Prix National de L'Architecture; the Grand Prix d'Architecture de la Ville de Paris; and the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Ministry of Culture.

In addition to being an architect, Portzamparc has painted since 1960, doing all of his own sketches and renderings, and sometimes murals in his completed projects. His works have been exhibited in Paris, London, Florence, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Brussels, Tokyo, and many other cities around the world. He is also a furniture designer, writer, and lecturer.

The distinguished jury that selected Portzamparc as the 1994 Laureate consists of J. Carter Brown, director emeritus of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (who is chairman of the jury and a founding member); and alphabetically, Giovanni Agnelli, chairman of Fiat from Torinol Italy; Charles Correa, architect of Bombay, India; Frank Gehry, architect and 1989 Pritzker Laureate of Los Angeles; Ada Louise Huxtable, author and architectural critic of New York; Toshio Nakamura, editor-in-chief of A+U architectural publications of Tokyo, Japan; and juror emeritus, Lord Rothschild, chairman of the board of trustees of the National Gallery of Art in London, England.


Read Christian de Portzamparc's Essay

Christian de Portzamparc's new architecture is of our time, bound neither by classicism nor modernism. His expanded perceptions and ideas seek answers beyond mere style. It is a new architecture characterized by seeing buildings, their functions and the life within them, in new ways that require wide-ranging, but thoughtful exploration for unprecedented solutions.

Every architect who aspires to greatness must in some sense reinvent architecture; conceive new solutions; develop a special design character; find a new aesthetic vocabulary. Portzamparc's work exhibits all these characteristics. He has an unusually clear and consistent vision, devising highly original spaces that serve a variety of functions on an urban scale in the Cite' de la Musique, or a more personal individual scale in a housing project or the delightfully chic Cafr Beaubourg.

He is a gifted composer using space, structure, texture, form, light and color all shaped by his personal vision. This reinvented architecture, no matter how idiosyncratic or original, still has its common source in modernism, appropriately assimilated.

Portzamparc is the first French architect to be awarded the Pritzker Prize. It is a fitting tribute to the individual and to the rich tradition of French architecture that he represents. No other country, with the possible exception of Italy, has made such a contribution to the field of architecture through its buildings, its urban design and through the Beaux Arts educational system.

The Ecoles des Beaux Arts held sway over the minds of generations of architects for a century or more, and even in recent times has proven more tenacious and pervasive in its influence than is generally acknowledged. Its theories, doctrines and teaching methods still dominate architectural education in many parts of the world.

Portzamparc is a prominent member of a new generation of French architects who have incorporated the lessons of the Beaux Arts into an exuberant collage of contemporary architectural idioms, at once bold, colorful and original. His is an architecture that draws on French cultural tradition while paying homage to the master architect and countryman, Le Corbusier. It is a lyrical architecture that takes great risks and evokes excitement from its audience.

Portzamparc is a high wire artist with sure and confident footwork. Recognizing the talent of a powerful poet of forms and creator of eloquent spaces, who is aware of the past, but true to himself and his time, the Pritzker Architecture Prize honors Christian de Portzamparc, with the expectation that the world will continue to benefit richly from his creativity. 


Jury Members

J. Carter Brown (Chairman)
Giovanni Agnelli
Charles Correa
Frank Gehry
Ada Louise Huxtable
Toshio Nakamura
Lord Rothschild
Bill Lacy (Secretary to the Jury)

The Commons, Columbus, lndiana

Columbus, Indiana, a small town some 45 miles south of Indianapolis, is a showcase of modern architecture with over fifty buildings designed by internationally recognized firms. Architectural enthusiast and Chairman of Cummings Engine Company, J. Irwin Miller was influential in bringing quality architecture to the town. His support of modern architecture began in 1937 when Elliel Saarinen received the commission to design a church in Columbus. In support of the concept that the built environment is crucial to a quality community, patronage was moved from an individual effort to a broader endeavor with the founding of the Cummings Engine Foundation. Established in 1954, its mission was to pay architects’ fees for any civic building designed by an architect selected from a list of approved professionals. Professionals such as Harry Weese, Richard Meier, I.M. Pei, SOM, and Venturi & Rauch, among others, have built in Columbus.

The glass enclosed Commons Centre was designed by Cesar Pelli in 1973 while he was with Gruen Associates in Los Angeles. The complex occupies two blocks in the center of downtown. It is a bi-level public space with a playground, performance stage, exhibition space, cafeteria and areas for seating. The Centre also incorporates a large civic space where many community events take place. The complex it is enlivened by Jean Tinguely's Chaos I (1974).

The 1994 Pritzker Architecture Prize ceremony was held at the Commons and included the participation of the Mayor of Columbus, The French Minister of Culture, the Director of Architecture for the French Ministry of Infrastructures, and representing the Pritzker Architecture Prize organization, J. Carter Brown, Bill Lacy, and Jay Pritzker, President of the Hyatt Foundation.


Read Christian de Portzamparc's Ceremony Acceptance Speech

Read J. Carter Brown's Ceremony Speech

Read Bill Lacy's Ceremony Speech

Reach Jacques Toubon's Ceremony Speech


The Commons Columbus Indiana

Ceremony Highlights

Full Ceremony