Trio win architecture's top prize

Spanish architects (from far left) Ramon Vilalta, Carme Pigem and Rafael Aranda are winners of the Pritzker Prize.
Spanish architects (from far left) Ramon Vilalta, Carme Pigem and Rafael Aranda are winners of the Pritzker Prize.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

NEW YORK • In perhaps the clearest signal yet that the era of the solo celebrity architect is over, three Spaniards who have worked together for 30 years in their hometown of Olot in Catalonia have won architecture's highest honour: the Pritzker Prize.

Married couple Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta, along with Rafael Aranda, on Wednesday became the first trio to win the prize, to be awarded in Tokyo on May 20.

Nestled deep in the countryside of Spain's north-east, Olot is surrounded by beech trees, marshes and volcanoes - a dramatic natural landscape that has long inspired their work.

In a globalised world, the prize announcement said, people increasingly fear they will lose their local values and art. The three "tell us that it may be possible to have both... our roots firmly in place and our arms outstretched to the rest of the world", it said.

"Their intensely collaborative way of working together, where the creative process, commitment to vision and all responsibilities are shared equally, led to the selection of the three individuals for this year's award," said Mr Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award.

The trio have not designed major public projects or worked much outside Spain, but the Pritzker jury's citation said "what sets them apart is their approach that creates buildings and places that are both local and universal at the same time".

Their buildings include the Soulages Museum in Rodez, France, featuring boldly modern metallic architecture and a light-filled complex in Barcelona, Spain, that has a library, a centre for the elderly and a children's playground. The design features ample views of interior gardens and sky, and metal corridors that nod to the site's industrial past as a candy factory.

It is only the second time that the Prize has gone to Spanish architects, after Rafael Moneo in 1996.

"We are thrilled that this year, three professionals, who work closely together in everything we do, are recognised," Pigem said.

"Sometimes, it feels as if you have to choose between the local and the global. With us, everyone can understand that you can be closely tied to the local while being open to the world."

On their Catalonian home turf, their projects include the Tussols- Basil athletics track and the covered open-air Les Cols restaurant, with plastic walls of trees, between which real trees grow.

In 1988, one year after completing their studies in architecture at the School of Architecture in Valles, they won first prize in a competition sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Public Works and Urbanism, to design a lighthouse in Punta Aldea. They founded their firm that year, calling it RCR Arquitectes after the initials of their first names.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2017, with the headline 'Trio win architecture's top prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe