The shape of things to come

Jorn Utzon once said, "I like to be on the edge of the possible."

For many architects, he created a new "possible" when the whimsical sails of the new Sydney Opera House rose out of the harbor in the 1960s.

His graceful design was not without its skeptics. Delays, cost overruns, and engineering obstacles stretched construction into a 14-year odyssey.

Yet the Danish architect, who won the Pritzker Architecture Award this week (see story), infused a new fluidity into the field.

Breaking form is now almost the definition of modernist architecture. Function is bent around bulbous shapes and organic silhouettes, brought to strikingly shiny heights by Frank Gehry's Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The most celebrated buildings don't have a right angle in sight. And that can be a problem for engineers as technology races to hold up these curvaceous structures. One plus is that new construction science is being invented along the way.

But for those who like their walls at 90 degrees, a new prize, dubbed the anti-Pritzker, was inaugurated last month. The University of Notre Dame School of Architecture awarded its first Richard H. Driehaus Prize to Leon Krier, a well-known advocate of traditional architecture and a force behind New Urbanism.

The $100,000 award and bronze medallion uncannily parallel the Pritzker. But it's all about classical design.

So even as modernist architects shoot for landmark status with curves and shine, classical form may still be shaping the future most of us will call home.

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