The Suitcase Lady


April 1, 2008, 9:51 pm

I recently decided to introduce my middle school students to the wonders of world class architecture.

They greeted my explanation of the upcoming project with an unparalleled display of ennui. I put a list of “starchitects” on the board and suggested a few trips to the school’s computer lab to do research. To this I added, “And you can write on anyone who has won the Pritzker Prize, the ‘Nobel’ prize of architecture,” named after Jay Pritzker of Chicago.

When the kids went to work in the lab, the mood changed dramatically. Fingers flashed over keyboards, exclamations of approval were expressed such as “These buildings look like Star Wars.”

Of course, one of the unending joys of teaching is that we, the teachers, get smarter. My first eye-opener occurred when one of the girls said to me, “Zaha Hadid is the only woman who has ever won the Pritzker.”

“Are you sure,” was my immediate reply. Then I went home and brought up the entire list of winners, 1979 to 2007. Sure enough, Ms. Hadid is the lone female.

The second surprise was the lack of one particular architect from the list. Santiago Calatrava has not won a Pritzker. Don’t his works epitomize the words on the prize medallion, “Firmness, Commodity and Delight”? Many students independently chose to report on Calatrava, and everyone finds “delight” in our winged Milwaukee Art Museum.

The class and I are in total agreement that a field trip to Malmö, Sweden, to check out Calatrava’s “Turning Torso” building would be terrific. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be able to have enough bake sales to pull the trip off.

The 2008 Pritzker Prize has just been announced. Jean Nouvel, a French architect, is the winner. Perhaps a field trip to the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis should be considered. Click here to read the New York Times 2008 Pritzker article.

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