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Editorial: The RAIC’s New Prize

The $100,000 Moriyama RAIC International Prize has far-reaching aspirations.

May 1, 2014
by Elsa Lam

Completed in 1963 by Raymond Moriyama, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto was renovated into the Noor Cultural Centre in 2003 by Moriyama & Teshima. In both incarnations, the building embodies principles of cultural inclusivity that Raymond Moriyama hopes to promote through the newly established Moriyama RAIC International Prize. Courtesy of Moriyama & Teshima Architects

Completed in 1963 by Raymond Moriyama, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto was renovated into the Noor Cultural Centre in 2003 by Moriyama & Teshima. In both incarnations, the building embodies principles of cultural inclusivity that Raymond Moriyama hopes to promote through the newly established Moriyama RAIC International Prize. Courtesy of Moriyama & Teshima Architects

It seems strange to say that the latest and largest award given by a Canadian architectural association is an international one, but the Moriyama RAIC International Prize has far-reaching aspirations.

Announced in April, the new prize–to be given every two years, starting this fall–will recognize an outstanding building located anywhere in the world. The winning architect, firm or patron will receive $100,000 as well as a handcrafted sculpture by Edmonton designer Wei Yew.

By opening the competition up to international contenders, the prize is a bold move to raise the profile of the RAIC–and Canadian architecture–on the global stage. The prize is also intended to encourage Canadian architects to aspire to international excellence.

Judging criteria include design excellence, innovation and environmental responsibility. Giving the prize a deeper dimension, the jury also seeks projects that further humanistic values such as social justice, equality and inclusivity.

These are all values displayed in the work of architect Raymond Moriyama, who donated $200,000 to fund the first round of the prize. As a young Japanese-Canadian, Moriyama was interned in British Columbia with his mother and two sisters during WWII. Alienated by others from the common bathing facilities because of a scar from a childhood accident, he built himself a hidden treehouse by a river–his first work of architecture. “It had a tremendous impact on my thinking, my feeling. It became a place of learning: looking down I started to see how every square foot was different from the next,” he recalls.

His subsequent designs, from the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in 1963 to the Canadian War Museum in 2005, seek to capture a specificity of place and provide equal access to people of all abilities and ethnicities.

This holistic view pervades the spirit of the prize. “I’m asking for a sense of humanity, not just a pretty building, not just ego. Does it fulfill a role in the community? Does it help society? Does it really help culture?” asks Moriyama. “It’s open to living persons, old, young–anyplace in the world. It could be from the Amazon. Hopefully one day there’s going to be a game changer that will appear.”

The large sum and international nature of the prize is intended to bring it, over time, into the same league as the Pritzker Prize and the RIBA International Prize (formerly the Lubetkin Prize). The Moriyama RAIC International Prize perhaps shares the greatest kinship with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, by focusing attention on a project rather than on lifetime achievement, and by placing other factors before aesthetics.

The prize will also include three $5,000 student scholarships, given in honour of the three finalists. Students are asked to write about their motivation for becoming an architect–a prompt which Moriyama hopes will cut to the chase of their personal convictions and galvanize their aspirations for the profession.

In many ways, the prize throws down the gauntlet to Canadian architects: is there a Canadian project that can win on this international stage? And who will support the prize as it continues past its first edition? The RAIC is launching a $5-million fundraising campaign, that if successful will fund the prize in perpetuity. Moriyama has given the seed money for an ambitious initiative–and challenged us to come together as an architectural community to follow suit.

Elsa Lam elam@canadianarchitect.com

 


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