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The winners of this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize have been announced -that's right. We said winners, plural. Usually, the Pritzker goes to just one architect, but this year, two Japanese partners are being honored, a man and a woman who lead the firm SANAA. Edward Lifson reports on the pair's elegant and transparent designs.

EDWARD LIFSON: The Pritzker jury praised the buildings of SANAA's Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa for seeming deceptively simple. And maybe in a jab at so much of what we see around us today, the jurors wrote: SANAA's architecture stands in direct contrast with the bombastic.

That simplicity greets you at the Glass Pavilion for the Toledo, Ohio Museum of Art. Set among trees, you gaze right through its layers of ultra-clear glass walls that fluidly curve between thin, white ceiling and floor. The building almost disappears into a molten pool of reflections and transparencies.

Kazuyo Sejima says they strive to make architecture like a park.

Ms. KAZUYO SEJIMA (Architect, Pritzker Architecture Prize Winner): In Japan, we have a park, which means very open space. And there, different aged people sharing the space, and sometimes a big group. At the same time, beside them, I can spend my very quiet time alone.

LIFSON: Sejima and her partner designed a space between glass walls at the back of the Toledo pavilion that offers emptiness. Behind you, the art. In front of you, trees and sky. You might catch reflections in the glass of other visitors passing by. SANAA offers similar choreography in its housing projects in densely packed Tokyo, says Japanese architect Hitoshi Abe. He chairs the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA.

Professor HITOSHI ABE (Chairman, Architecture and Urban Design, UCLA): The housing project they did is really questioning how you should live together with somebody you don't know, relationship of the public space and the private space and it's challenging this boundary, so that you have to accept somebody's existence near you - kind of force you to accept the other people.

LIFSON: That extends to their way of working. The Pritzker jury cites SANAA's, quote, "collaborative process that is both unique and inspirational." The way they work, it's hard to know who does what. Ryue Nishizawa.

Mr. RYUE NISHIZAWA (Architect, Pritzker Architecture Award Winner): Sejima-san has very different way of thinking than me, so I'm inspired by her every time.

LIFSON: Together, they've created the New Museum in New York City - which looks kind of like randomly stacked bento boxes - a sharp, glassy, compact-but-monumental showroom for Dior in Tokyo, museums and academic centers in Japan and Europe, and soon, a branch of the Louvre in the north of France.

This is only the second time the Pritzker has gone to a pair of architects working together. It could have been the third time, but in 1991, the jury awarded the prize to Robert Venturi and not to his close collaborator, Denise Scott Brown.

Before now, only one woman had won the Pritzker: Zaha Hadid. But Kazuyo Sejima seems to think more about architecture than about gender.

Ms. SEJIMA: For me, not so strong meaning to get the Pritzker Prize as a woman. But I hope this prize invite more women to architecture.

LIFSON: Elegant understatement, as in the work of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the winners of this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize.

For NPR News, I'm Edward Lifson.

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