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Winning the Pritzker Prize

The winner of this year's Pritzker Prize for architecture, Thom Mayne, is a self-described outsider, and his designs have expanded the boundaries of architecture.

Architecture today is a collaborative effort, and Thom Mayne's studio has three dozen designers who work together on projects. But the vision behind the studio, called Morphosis, is Mr. Mayne's.

He says his work involves experimentation and exploration.

"And I would say it's the typical way that most architects that are approaching it from an artistic perspective practice today," says Thom Mayne.

The Pritzker Prize is sometimes called the Nobel of architecture, and Mr. Mayne is the first American to win it in 14 years.

The Pritzker selection jury cited the originality and diversity of Thom Mayne's projects, which include a regional office building for the California department of transportation in Los Angeles.

The 61-year-old architect says his designs push boundaries and challenge tradition. The massive Caltrans building in downtown Los Angeles has a perforated metal covering on it east and west sides. Using air-powered actuators, the "skin" of the building is programmed to adjust to the sun's position. It blocks the light at midday, which saves energy costs for heating and cooling the building.

"It's an intelligent skin. It moves. It operates to allow sun in, or blocks sun. It produces a building that's approximately 20 percent more efficient," says Mr. Mayne.

Another of Thom Mayne's buildings, Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, California, features clusters of buildings with walls at irregular angles. The buildings are located on a passageway on a terraced campus.

"We started by asking questions of how does architecture participate in education? Can we be part of that process? Can architecture contribute to that process? And it led us to a very different kind of idea," says Mr. Mayne.

Mr. Mayne's buildings have something of an industrial look. Diamond Ranch High School principal Monica Tourville says some students said their school, with its steel gray walls and concrete walkways, looked like a prison. She says most have now come to appreciate it.

"They think it's really neat, just the design and the architecture, and the attention that the school draws, they're very proud of," says Monica Tourville.

Students say Diamond Ranch High School is known for the diversity of its student body, and its unusual architecture. Student body president Trisa Taro says the students like that.

"Because usually other schools are 90 degree angles, and this is very acute and obtuse," says Trisa.

One member of the Pritzker Prize committee says Thom Mayne is moving architecture into the 21st century, and that his work is never predictable, but invites a building's users to participate in the architect's inventiveness.