Certain works of architecture exhibit a promise of transformation. These are works that test the boundaries of architecture and transcend the age in which they are created. The Obel Award has been founded to identify and reward these seminal works for their ability to inspire contemporary and future generations.

Etymologically, the word seminal derives from ‘semen’ and ‘seed’. It is something that contains the beginning of a new development. The seminal is different from the iconic in a crucial way, according to Carsten Thau, professor emeritus at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

»Iconicity risks overexposure, becoming so well-known that it blends in, becomes invisible, and thus turns into empty signifiers and becomes harmless. The seminal, on the other hand, creates a situation of before and after. The seminal is uncompromising. An essential dimension in seminal works is that often – at first sight – they may appear a little strange, unpleasant, or even disturbing. But once uttered, they become evident – One realises that they had to be construed exactly the way they are, and uncompromisingly so. The seminal work of art gains a sort of sovereignty and self-evidence,« he explains.

»The nominated buildings should be – in a sense deeper than the mere tabloid – an event. The nature of the event is among other things characterised by the ability to open up new fields of experience, new ways of seeing,« he says.

To be considered for nomination for the Obel Award, an architectural work therefore has to be original and transformative, bringing a promise of change and a better future.