Earlier this month a brand new art museum opened in the posh mountain resort town of Aspen, Colorado. As a relatively high-profile museum, the project gathered an expected amount of attention from the architectural press. On top of that, the building drew an atypical amount of mainstream attention due to the fact that its designer, the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, had recently been named the 2014 Pritzker Prize laureate, the highest honor in architecture.
The Pritzker transforms architects from being merely good practitioners in a fairly insular field into global celebrities. Frank Gehry. Zaha Hadid. Norman Foster. Et cetera. Suddenly the work of these architects becomes a matter of public consumption.
That's why it's so interesting that Ban is the latest inductee into this group of “world-class” architects. Despite the flash of his new Aspen museum, he’s an architect who has gathered most of his acclaim for the clever and elegant projects he’s designed to respond to humanitarian crises and natural disasters.
It's a very different building type from the concert halls, skyscrapers and museums designed by most Pritzker laureates. That Ban has now joined their ranks is causing many to reconsider how the world’s top-tier architects should be using their design skill and what should really be considered important architecture.