Thom Mayne, the Uncompromising 2005 Pritzker Laureate

b. 1944

Architect Thom Mayne at age 69 in 2013
Architect Thom Mayne at age 69 in 2013. Architect Thom Mayne at age 69 in 2013

Thom Mayne has been called many things, from an uncompromising rebel to just plain difficult. He's also been an academic, mentor, and prize-winning architect for many decades. Most importantly, Mayne's legacy includes solving urban problems through connections and viewing architecture as a "continuous process" rather than a "static form."

Background:

Born: January 19, 1944, Waterbury, Connecticut

Education and Professional Training:

  • 1968: Bachelor of Architecture, University of Southern California
  • 1978: Master of Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Professional:

  • 1968-1970: Planner for Victor Gruen
  • 1972: Founder Morphosis, Culver City, California
  • 1972: Co-founder Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), Santa Monica, California

Selected Buildings:

Other Designs:

Awards:

  • 1987: Rome Prize, American Academy of Design in Rome
  • 1992: Brunner Prize Award in Architecture, American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • 2004: Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA)
  • 2005: Pritzker Prize
  • 2009: President Obama's Commission on Arts and Humanities
  • 2013: AIA Gold Medal

Thom Mayne In His Own Words:

"I have absolutely no interest in producing a building that just accommodates X, Y and Z function."—2005, TED

"But basically, what we do is, we try to give coherence to the world. We make physical things, buildings that become a part in an accretional process; they make cities. And those things are the reflection of the processes, and the time that they are made. And what I'm doing is attempting to synthesize the way one sees the world and the territories which are useful as generative material."—2005, TED

"...the idea that architecture is defined as single buildings—of whatever size—that can be plugged into a comprehensible, planned urban matrix is no longer adequate to address the needs of people adapting to a highly mobile and ever-changing urban society."—2011, Combinatory Urbanism, p.

9

"I have no interest at all in conceiving something in my brain and saying, 'This is what it looks like'....Architecture is the beginning of something, because it's—if you're not involved in first principles, if you're not involved in the absolute, the beginning of that generative process, it's cake decoration....it's not what I'm interested in doing. And so, in the formation of things, in giving it form, in concretizing these things, it starts with some notion of how one organizes."—2005, TED

"The practice of architecture, which has traditionally been aligned with permanence and stability, must change to accommodate and take advantage of the rapid changes and increased complexities of contemporary reality....combinatory urbanism engages the premise of continuous process over static form...."—2011, Combinatory Urbanism, p.

29

"No matter what I've done, what I've tried to do, everybody says it can't be done. And it's continuous across the complete spectrum of the various kind of realities that you confront with your ideas. And to be an architect, somehow you have to negotiate between left and right, and you have to negotiate between this very private place where ideas take place and the outside world, and then make it understood."—2005, TED

"If you want to survive, you're going to have to change. If you don't change, you're going to perish. Simple as that."—2005, AIA National Convention (PDF)

What Others Say About Mayne:

"Thom Mayne has been, throughout his career, regarded as a rebel. Even today, after his recognized success as an architect of major building projects, requiring the management of a large office—Morphosis—and a world-wide practice, terms like 'maverick' and 'bad boy' and 'difficult to work with' still cling to his reputation. Part of this is the attraction of the popular press, where he appears frequently, to anything racy and even slightly scandalous. Part of it is a sign of respect—we want our American heroes to be tough and independent, having their own ideals, charting their own paths. Part of it is, in Mayne's case, simply true."—Lebbeus Woods (1940-2012), architect

"Mayne's approach toward architecture and his philosophy is not derived from European modernism, Asian influences, or even from American precedents of the last century. He has sought throughout his career to create an original architecture, one that is truly representative of the unique, somewhat rootless, culture of Southern California, especially the architecturally rich city of Los Angeles. Like the Eameses, Neutra, Schindler, and Gehry before him, Thom Mayne is an authentic addition to the tradition of innovative, exciting architectural talent that flourishes on the West Coast."—Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury Citation

"Mayne's architecture does not rebel against conventions so much as it absorbs and transforms them and moves on in a direction that demonstrates how buildings and the spaces they provide, both within and without, can engage the unpredictable yet highly tangible dynamics of the present.

He accepts the conventional typologies—bank, high school, courthouse, office building—of the programs his clients hand to him, with a generosity that speaks of his respect for the needs of others, even those with whom he shares little in the way of outlook and sensibility."—Lebbeus Woods

Sources: Who's Who in America 2012, 66th edition, vol. 2, Marquis Who's Who ©2011, p. 2903; Biography, An Essay on Thom Mayne By Lebbeus Woods, and Jury Citation, © The Hyatt Foundation, pritzkerprize.com; Thom Mayne on architecture as connection, TED Talk Filmed February 2005 [accessed June 13, 2013]; Combinatory Urbanism, Selected Introductory Material + the New Orleans Urban Redevelopment chapter (PDF), 2011 [accessed June 16, 2013]

Learn More:

  • Combinatory Urbanism: The Complex Behavior of Collective Form by Thom Mayne, 2011
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  • Thom Mayne: U.S. Federal Office Building, San Francisco, Tom Piper and Charles Gansa, Directors, Landmarks in 21st Century American Architecture Series, Checkerboard Film Foundation, 2008 (DVD)
    Buy on Amazon
  • Morphosis: Buildings and Projects
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