When the latest winner of the Driehaus Prize was announced, my initial thought was, “Who?” Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil was a name I had never come across during my architectural career. I was familiar with all the past winners prior to their winning their own miniature version of the Choregic Monument of Lysikrates and was not surprised by their selection. They were common names, thrown about in the small world of traditional architects and urbanists. They all greatly influenced the growing traditional movement either through built works or academic writings. And coincidentally, they had all worked primarily in America or Europe.
So, while trying to guess the next Driehaus Prize winner, El-Wakil was not even on my radar. I had formulated my list of the first ten Driehaus winners and someone from the Middle East was far from it. It was not due to a cultural bias, but rather a lack of familiarity with the architecture. But after researching his background and projects, it is easy to see why he is one of the first eight Driehaus winners.
However, it begs the question of who the remaining members of the first ten will be. Will they be known more for their academic enterprises than their built works? Will they lean more towards architecture than urbanism? Will they represent non-western cultures such as China or India? Or will the jury surprise us again in some other unexpected way? The selection of El-Wakil as this year’s Driehaus Prize winner was a pleasant surprise and one that I hope may be repeated in the future.