Driehaus Prize in Architecture

  • Arts & Culture
  • 2003

Self-made Chicago financier Richard Driehaus argues that “Americans deserve better buildings… . Architecture should be of human scale, representational form, and individual expression that reflects a community’s architectural heritage.” He believes that relatively few contemporary buildings offer the “delight, proportion, and harmony” that good classical architecture provided in the past. So he created a major annual cash prize to encourage architects to do better.

Until then, the most prominent annual architecture award was the $100,000 Pritzker Prize, which generally went to ideological modernists, without much regard to how much fondness their buildings generated among the residents who had to live with them. Driehaus wanted to create incentives for architects to concentrate on traditional forms of architecture—which continue to be loved by ordinary citizens as much as they are neglected by many elites.

In 2003, Driehaus partnered with the University of Notre Dame’s architecture school (a hotbed of neoclassicism) to establish the $200,000 Driehaus prize. It is given each year to “a living architect whose work embodies the highest ideals of traditional and classical architecture in contemporary society, and creates a positive cultural, environmental, and artistic impact.” Its first recipient was Leon Krier, who designed the model town of Poundbury in England. Other winners have included neoclassicists like the husband-and-wife team of Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Allen Greenberg, England’s Quinlan Terry, and Egypt’s Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil. Postmodern architects Robert Stern and Michael Graves, who have demonstrated fluency in classical motifs, have also won the award.

“The prize thus represents a partial counterbalance to the rejection of classical forms by elite architecture that prevailed for much of the last century,” writes James Panero. In the process it has encouraged a fresh look at traditional modes of building and styling, and encouraged a whole new generation of designers to respect the forms created through centuries of urban evolution.