The selection of Portuguese architect Souto de Moura as this year’s recipient of the world’s highest recognition in the field of architectural design marks a change in direction of the juried selection from an apparent pattern of so-called ‘starchitect’ selections. Over the last few years, the laureates have been internationally recognized designers such as Zaha Hadid, Renzo Piano, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry and Peter Zumthor. Souto de Moura is best known for his design of the Paula Rego Museum (photo above) as well as participation in the Serpentine Pavilion of 2005 with Alvaro Siza. AR blogs about why his work was recognized this way.
The Serpentine Pavillion has been the "world stage" for an annual built pavilion design by invited architects, many times in collaboration with world-famous architects, kind of an incubator for international designers run by the British. The Serpentine Gallery, established by the Arts Council of Great Britain, is located in London and constructs a different pavilion each year on the same site by many of the later-crowned Pritzker architects; hence it appears to be the staging area for what is still a closed circle of international designers despite press to the contrary. Serpentine Gallery Projects build dynamic relationships between art, artists and people. Projects and events vary in scale, duration and location, and challenge expectations of where art can be encountered and by whom. These projects invite the public to "encounter" different explorations of architecture and place, such as the work done there by SANAA, the Pritzker Prize laureate from 2010. Peter Zumthor is designing the 2011 pavilion. These projects are like gymnastic exhibitions for designers, since the program is very simply an exhibition space with the designer given a free hand to explore expression and materials. No roof leak challenges for these exercises, but that's not the point.
Interestingly, another arts and architecture gallery, 0III, is on a mission to document places and designs that are not a result of choreographed images in the architectural journals. They support a Blue Plaque Map of London which marks significant locations of important events and structures. They are taking a tangent view of important places that are not restricted to architectural dynamics, but rather meaning of place and its context in history. Yet their contemporary design exhibitions inevitably include these visibly ranked designers once again.
Britain appears to be making a claim to the public realm of design, akin to the Milan International Biennale Trade Fair that is produced throughout Italy every year, except that the Serpentine Pavilion is more purely a design experiment that is gaining prominence on the international stage. The push for design ingenuity and resourcefulness, grounded in the arts, is a welcome change from the marketing and sale of architecture and its branding.
Update: The backstory on the Milan Trade Fair, which was founded in 1961 by Tito Armellini, along with about a dozen other leading furniture manufacturers based near Milan.