Discovering and evaluating seminal works of architecture requires high professional competence as well as an ability to see the big picture. Therefore, The OBEL AWARD appoints a jury that consists of members with a strong architectural profile but also distinguished professionals from other backgrounds.

Martha Schwartz (Chair) Founding Principal, Martha Schwartz Partners

Chairman of the Jury



Martha Schwartz is a landscape architect, urbanist, and artist. She works with the design of the urban landscape to enhance quality of life within our cities. Presently, Martha Schwartz’s focus is on urban afforestation and how new technologies can assist ecological systems to regenerate within urban areas.

As founding principal of Martha Schwartz Partners, she has over 35 years of experience within landscape architecture. A tenured professor at Harvard, she lectures internationally on a variety of subjects, such as how to create sustainability through design excellence and large-scale landscape interventions within cities. Her work has been featured widely in publications and gallery exhibitions.

What is your approach to architecture and landscape architecture?

»Architecture and landscape architecture span a vast array of scales – from the design of a home and garden to the planning of a city. As architects and landscape architects, we are tasked with big and complex challenges: to shape and integrate both the urban and natural environments. We must understand the larger context of any project – its infrastructure, site conditions, client ambitions, constraints, community issues, future climate risks – and, through creativity, integrate them to address functional needs while producing a thing of beauty.

While almost everyone has a clear picture of what architects do and knows what a building is, I have found that the general understanding of landscape is far less defined and very much dependent on culture. This is because landscape is seen as part of “nature” which has many different cultural interpretations.

A landscape, in western minds, conveys a “natural” scenario which has a strict definition: green, flowers, water, animals etc. While studying landscape architecture in the early 1970s, I was taught that “a good landscape is a landscape that does not show the hand of man.” While it was OK to shape buildings, it was not OK to shape the land. This revealed an approach, which diminished the role of landscape architects.

I never paid attention to this admonition, however. I think about landscapes as manmade artefacts, and I think about landscape architecture as an art form – but an art form that does service to the needs of people. I see the landscape and wonder: What can I make out of it, so it can make you feel, think, react, remember, show me something I have never seen or thought about before? How can our manmade landscapes participate in our cultural revolution? I have always been interested in culture and, specifically, the fine arts. I believe that fine artists are the researchers of the visual realm. Their experimentation with new ways of seeing makes it possible for us, as designers, to move the discourse forward.

For instance, it is important right now that we start to see urban landscapes in a different light. An asphalt road, a junk yard, or a sewage-filled clay quarry are left-over landscapes which are neither “nature” nor buildings and which have no expectations for beauty or use. But these in-between spaces or “scrap” landscapes comprise vast areas of our urban environments, which could be used for environmental benefit. 70% of all humankind will be living in cities in 2050, and it will be the public open spaces which will create resiliency and enable cities to adapt to climate change – more so than the buildings, as we will need spaces to manage and share water, to keep cool, exercise, play and to escape the heat of the summer nights.«

How do you define seminal architecture?

»’Seminal’ comes from the Latin word ‘semen’ which means ‘seed’. In our context, it is the beginning of a new idea or direction that has not existed before and which has the potential to grow. Seminal architecture has the capacity to define our time and change the way that we think.

People are often uncomfortable with change. It makes us feel unsure and vulnerable. Often, trying something that is untested, or risky, can be uncomfortable. But without change and risk, human beings would never have been able to evolve. I believe that great art is about creating an uncomfortable moment in time. It is about challenging the norm. This is exactly what has brought us forward throughout the time.«

What are your ambitions for the OBEL AWARD?

»Our ambitions are to stretch the concept of architecture by pushing its boundaries. We aim to broaden the field through discussion and critique of the field itself. Since the early 20th century modernism, architecture has existed inside its own silo as the master of all design silos. However, the amounts of information available today makes it impossible for architecture to master all the pieces and silos within it. Architecture must re-visit its position as the “master artist” who orchestrates the fates of huge projects that affect vast numbers of people and vast areas of our earth. We must go beyond beauty for beauty’s sake and work collaboratively, so we can make use of all the information that one profession alone cannot possibly master. The ‘earth system’, meaning the land, the atmosphere, the oceans, and the earth’s people, must be considered in order to truly respond to our new context and be an active enabler of change for the betterment of the earth and all the creatures who live on it.

This is how we have come to our ambitions for the OBEL AWARD. I believe that this prize is about rewarding change, so we can look into and act upon the future.«


Kjetil Trædal Thorsen Co-founder, Snøhetta Architecture and Landscape



Kjetil Trædal Thorsen co-founded Snøhetta Architecture and Landscape in 1987 – a collaboration of architects and landscape architects. He has been instrumental from the beginning in defining and developing Snøhetta’s philosophy and architectural ambitions.

Kjetil is also co-founder of Norway’s first architectural gallery, Galleri ROM.


What is your approach to architecture?

»Architecture is an enormously important tool that directly and indirectly influences our bodies and minds by shaping our everyday surroundings. Partially who we become is due to our environment. So the influence that architecture has is something that needs to be considered in a conscious manner. The tools we use to influence people must be good tools.

We are building more than ever before, and so one of the biggest challenges of architecture today is relevance. Environmental and social relevance. Why do we need to build this? Who are we serving? Are we helping people? We need to ask ourselves these questions.«

How do you define seminal architecture?

»Seminal architecture is something that sets a new standard for a possible future. Seminal pieces of architecture are outstanding, groundbreaking, and contribute to life-changing experiences, releasing inner qualities in individuals as well as in societies.«

What are your ambitions for the OBEL AWARD?

»We need this award in architecture simply because we need more public focus on the profession of architecture; more focus on what architecture does. In addition, this is a truly global award, which means that it could have an impact on practices that are located all over the world. I am hoping that the award will set an example for others to follow.«

Louis Becker Global Design Principal and Partner, Henning Larsen Architects



Louis Becker is Design Principal and Partner at Henning Larsen Architects and Adjunct Professor at the Aalborg University Institute of Architecture, Design and Media Technology. Becker has played an integral role in the internationalisation of Henning Larsen, and he remains a driving force in the expansion of the global impact of the practice, pushing a specifically Nordic approach to architecture. Across all offices, he has been spearheading the company’s design development in the intersection between knowledge, professionalism, and artistic quality.

Louis Becker is a highly sought public speaker at universities both in Denmark and abroad, and he regularly sits on the juries of international competitions.

What is your approach to architecture?

»I have had a Scandinavian upbringing architecturally, and we have a particular way of looking at architecture as part of something bigger and not as something in its own right. Architecture has to benefit people. It must have a purpose.

The way we work with architecture at Henning Larsen Architects, we are staging human interaction. This means that we give people opportunities and choices. I believe that architecture impacts the user, but the user also impacts the architecture. Personally, I am motivated by the idea that other people take over after we have worked on a building. I can come back to a project after a while and see that it has taken on a new life that I could not even have imagined.

One thing that makes this even more interesting is that our notion of who is the client in architecture has changed. It used to be the middle-aged man with the money. Today, you have a very complex client: all the different user groups. The power and control have shifted to a much broader audience, which I think is important and much more interesting.

I think that architecture is coming back into relevance after a period of time when it was considered by much of the construction industry as merely decoration – a form giving game. What we see today are architects that are stepping up and taking responsibility, who interfere and construct things and dive into new technologies. I think that the future for architects is to be able to participate in discussions about construction. To the young architects, I say this all the time: ‘Learn how to build, because that is how you make people listen to you.’«

How do you define seminal architecture?

»Seminal architecture sets a new direction, changing the idea of what architecture can do. If you look back in history, only a few architectural projects actually redefined architecture itself. These works pointed out new possibilities and potential and had a tremendous social impact.«

What are your ambitions for the OBEL AWARD?

»My dream is that the prize will have a weight and an importance. The prize emphasises projects that are seminal and make a change in architecture, and I think we are currently missing this humanistic approach to architecture in the world. To us in the jury group, the content is what is important. That does not mean that we take beauty out of the equation – that would be completely wrong – but you have to be sure that the content is relevant. Architectural excellence has something to do with functionality and beauty, and they go hand in hand. And so, the projects have to deliver on both content and aesthetics. In this sense, The OBEL AWARD is a different architectural award.«

Xu Tiantian Founding Principal, the DnA _Design and Architecture Beijing office



Xu Tiantian is founding principal of the DnA _Design and Architecture Beijing office, an interdisciplinary practice working with city planning, urban design, and architectural design with a special focus on addressing new relationships between architecture and urbanism in contemporary Chinese culture.

Xu Tiantian received her Master of Architecture in Urban Design from Harvard Graduate School of Design and Bachelor of Architecture from Tsinghua University in Beijing. She has later taught at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) School of Architecture.

Prior to establishing DnA Beijing, Xu Tiantian worked at a number of design firms in the United States and the Netherlands. She has received the 2006 WA China Architecture Award and the 2008 Young Architects Award from the Architectural League of New York.

What is your approach to architecture?

»I believe that architecture can integrate and influence places and people. A building is never an isolated object; it is part of a site and a context, and it helps to connect (sometimes even to fix) the site and the context. For us, when designing a building, it is more important to reveal the hidden layers than to add on new layers.

I think that our biggest challenge as architects today is to determine how architecture can adapt to our current needs and issues.«

How do you define seminal architecture?

»Seminal architecture both challenges and refines the definition of architecture.«

What are your ambitions for the OBEL AWARD?

»As a brand new award, the OBEL AWARD has the potential to confront us with our most current urgent issues and to become the leading international award within architecture.«


Aric Chen General and Artistic Director, the Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam.


Aric Chen is General and Artistic Director of the Nieuwe Instituut, the Netherlands’ national museum and institute for architecture, design, and digital culture in Rotterdam.

American-born, Chen previously served as Professor and founding Director of the Curatorial Lab at the College of Design & Innovation at Tongji University in Shanghai; Curatorial Director of the Design Miami fairs in Miami Beach and Basel; Creative Director of Beijing Design Week; and Lead Curator for Design and Architecture at M+, Hong Kong, where he oversaw the formation of that new museum’s design and architecture collection and programme.

In addition, Chen has curated dozens of museum exhibitions and other projects internationally, served on numerous boards and juries, and acted as advisor (and currently Co-Chief Curator) to the UABB Shenzhen Biennale of Architecture\Urbanism, London Design Biennale (whose 2023 edition the Nieuwe Instituut will be artistic directing), Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial (New York), and Gwangju Design Biennale.

He is the author of Brazil Modern (Monacelli, 2016), and has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Wallpaper*, Architectural Record, and other publications.


Wilhelm Vossenkuhl Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, the LMU Munich


Prof. em. Dr.

Wilhelm Vossenkuhl is professor emeritus at the University of Munich. He has a PhD in philosophy and a second PhD (Habilitation) and holds guest professorships, e.g. at the Facility of Design and Architecture at the Academy of Arts (Stuttgart).

Much of Wilhelm Vossenkuhl’s work is focused on the relationship between architecture and philosophy. He has been involved in several design projects with, amongst others, Otl Aicher and Norman Foster, and is presently working with colleagues trying to reform academic design education.

As a philosopher, what is your approach to architecture?

»I believe that a philosophical perspective can be very helpful in the design process, because philosophy can improve our understanding of reality. Architects are primarily dealing with a limited idea of construction. They apply certain technical concepts, and they think about how it will fit into a given context. But there is a need to think about the quality that is connected to the building: What does it mean to use certain materials – for instance, transparent materials or reflective materials or materials which are light? What will people be doing in these buildings, how will they feel, how are their daily lives? These are all fundamentally philosophical questions.

The design of things, including buildings, changes lives. Good design diminishes potential conflicts and makes people happier and more open to each other.«

How do you define seminal architecture?

»Seminal architecture helps to improve people’s lives. It has a widespread importance for the whole of society, for all the different areas in society: healthcare, science, industry, labour, education, etc.

The educational programs at the Bauhaus and at the Ulmer Hochschule promoted the idea that design and architecture can change the world to the better. Both schools had a very strong philosophical, social, and political approach. There is no school nowadays comparable to those two, but their ideas are still present and fermenting.«

What are your ambitions for the OBEL AWARD?

»Very often, architectural awards are addressed to specialists by specialists. And these awards do not necessarily link up with the rest of the world. In our first jury session, I felt immediately integrated, because all members were open towards philosophical aspects. We share the idea that the OBEL AWARD takes into account how architecture contributes to the common good. I hope that the award itself will be seen internationally as a contribution to the common good.«

Sumayya Vally Founder and Principal, Counterspace in Johannesburg


Principal of the award-winning architecture and research studio Counterspace, Vally’s design, research and pedagogical practice is searching for expression for hybrid identities and territory, particularly for African and Islamic conditions — both rooted and diasporic. Her design process is often forensic, and draws on the aural, performance, and the overlooked as generative places of history and work.

In 2022, Vally was selected by the World Economic Forum to be one of its Young Global Leaders, a community of the world’s most promising artists, researchers, entrepreneurs, activists, and political leaders, and, as a TIME100 Next list honoree, Vally has been identified as someone who will shape the future of architectural practice and canon. She recently joined the World Monuments Fund Board of Directors and serves on several boards through her interest in dynamic forms of archive, embodied heritage, and supporting new networks of knowledge in the arts.

In 2019, Counterspace was invited to design the 20th Serpentine Pavilion in London, making Vally the youngest architect ever to win this internationally renowned commission. With the Serpentine, she has initiated and developed a new fellowship programme, Support Structures for Support Structures, which assists artists and collectives working at the intersection of art with social justice, the archive, and ecology. As Artistic Director, Vally is currently working on curating the first Islamic Arts Biennale taking place in Jeddah in 2023. She is currently collaborating on the design of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development in Monrovia, Liberia, the first presidential library dedicated to a female head of state, where she will oversee the scenography, pavilions, and exhibition spaces. She is also working on a garden and gathering place commemorating the 5th Pan- African Congress held in Manchester, UK, in 1945.

Sumayya’s practice operates adjacent to the academy. For six years (2015-2021), she led the masters’ studio Unit 12 at the Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg — founded by Professor Lesley Lokko, with the intent to create a curriculum for the African continent. She has taught and lectured widely, most recently as Pelli Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Vally currently leads a new masters’ programme, Hijra هجرة, at the Royal College of Art and is an Honorary Professor in Practice at The Bartlett School of Architecture.



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