Events Expanding Your Horizons: From Hyatt to Pritzker Architecture Prize and Archaeology

Time: Wednesday, October 17, 2018. 15:50 – 17:30
Location: Lecture Hall, Main Building, Tsinghua University

Speaker: Thomas Jay Pritzker
Executive Chairman of Hyatt Hotels Corporation
Director of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
Chairman and CEO of the Pritzker Organization
Sponsor of the Pritzker Architecture Prize
Executive Chairman of Center for Strategic and International Studies
Organiser of the Pritzker Neuropsychiatric Disorders Research Consortium

On Wednesday afternoon, Tsinghua students were privileged to attend the conferment of the 25th Tsinghua University Honorary Doctorate on Thomas Jay Pritzker by President Qiu Yong of Tsinghua University, followed by an enlightening discussion on the position of architectural studies in modern society.

Mr Pritzker, watched by his wife, Margot, and younger son, David, began by sharing his recent travels along the Silk Route in Tajikistan, Xinjang and Gansu, quickly followed by two of his core themes - constant curiosity and multi-faceted interests. In a world where the young people of today are thrown into a life defined by uncertainty, Mr Pritzker explained the importance of a broad base of interests in taking full advantage of the crossroads of happy accidents and luck.

One such fortuitous event, a visit to China in July 1976, opened Mr Pritzker’s eyes to the vast potential of the country in the coming years. He spoke passionately of the impressive scale and industriousness of the China he encountered, as well as the peril of each and every road crossing from the bike traffic from then on until 2018, that sees Hyatt planning on doubling their presence in the next five years. Mr Pritzker commented on his awe at what the country has achieved in a single lifetime.  He also highlighted how his contact with the country from the 1970s helped him to be the voice on boards guiding other business leaders to grow their businesses in the China market with Chinese customers in mind.

However, whilst the luck of having visited China at the right time was part of it, navigating the unknown with a problem solving approach is the another crucial skill that Mr Pritzker advocated. It is a skill that he actively fosters through the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Through the study of architecture, students are given the opportunity to consider a specific problem, innovate constantly, test regularly, fail often and eventually find a solution. The fast paced and iterative problem solving method that architecture uses must keep the customers at the very heart of it. For Hyatt, where employees are asked to treat customers ‘as the customer would want to be treated’, this kind of problem solving skill is central to its success. However, beyond the hospitality industry, Mr Pritzker highlighted the enormously transferable value of an architectural qualification and its ability to broaden students’ career horizons by encouraging a growth mindset.

For students who follow an architectural career path, Mr Pritzker emphasised the importance of their work to every person they meet in their lifetime, and also every single other person they will never meet. From personal experience, Mr Pritzker spoke fondly of a memory at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao designed by Frank Gehry, where the inclusive construction of the building had transformed his children’s previously unenthusiastic moods for the better.

Mr Pritzker left the audience with a final story to demonstrate the value of the problem solving skills taught through the study of architecture. As a young man, Ratan Tata, of the Indian Tata dynasty, studied architecture and structural engineering at Cornell University in the US and briefly worked as an architect in the US after graduating. However, when his grandfather became ill, he returned to India and started working in the family business, shovelling limestone. As time went on and he became Chairman of Tata Group, he used his architectural training to design the business more innovatively and grew the earnings of Tata Group by fifty times in doing so. Despite his incongruous educational background for the Chairman of a multi-national conglomerate, the curiosity and problem solving mindset fostered by architectural studies was integral to his success in a fast changing world.

By Holly Holdsworth