Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta
Credit: Javier Lorenzo Domínguez

Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta, three relatively obscure architects practicing in Olot, in the Catalonian region of northeastern Spain, have been awarded international architecture’s highest honour: the 2017 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate.

The trio – who have collaborated under the name RCR Arquitectes since 1988 – are the first team of three to be selected for the prestigious prize, with the jury specifically citing their evident synchronicity and loyalty to their roots as one of the many reasons for which they were selected for the honour. 

“In this day and age, there is an important question that people all over the world are asking, and it is not just about architecture; it is about law, politics, and government as well,” reads a jury citation in part.

“We live in a globalised world where we must rely on international influences, trade, discussion, transactions, etc. But more and more people fear that, because of this international influence, we will lose our local values, our local art, and our local customs. They are concerned and sometimes frightened.

“Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta tell us that it may be possible to have both. They help us to see, in a most beautiful and poetic way, that the answer to the question is not ‘either/or’ and that we can, at least in architecture, aspire to have both; our roots firmly in place and our arms outstretched to the rest of the world. And that is such a wonderfully reassuring answer, particularly if it applies in other areas of modern human life as well.”

Bell–Lloc Winery, 2007, Palamós, Girona, Spain
Credit: Hisao Suzuki
Row House 2012 Olot, Girona, Spain
Credit: Hisao Suzuki

The selection of Aranda, Pigem and Vilalta is being heralded as a turning point for the Pritzker, which in the past has favoured big name architects with a global following.

RCR Arquitectes, so named for the initials of their first names, design works that are built predominantly in Spain, particularly in their home region of Catalonia, and are informed by a close relationship with the surrounding topography, history, customs and culture. 

Notable works, pictured throughout, include the marquee at Les Cols Restaurant in Olot, which is exemplary of their fusion of the valley landscape with modern materials like polymer plastic; The Soulages Museum in Rodez, France, a geometric steel triumph that houses the work of the abstract painter Pierre Soulages; and the Sant Antoni – Joan Oliver Library, Senior Citizens Center and Cándida Pérez Gardens in Barcelona, a community minded project that brings together the elderly and the very young in a beautiful space designed for communion.  

La Lira Theater Public Open Space, 2011, Ripoll, Girona, Spain In collaboration with J. Puigcorbé
Credit: Hisao Suzuki
Sant Antoni – Joan Oliver Library, Senior Citizens Center and Cándida Pérez Gardens, 2007, Barcelona, Spain
Credit: Hisao Suzuki/Eugeni Pons

“They’ve demonstrated that unity of a material can lend such incredible strength and simplicity to a building,” Jury Chair and Australia’s eminent architect Glenn Murcutt remarked of the winners.

“The collaboration of these three architects produces uncompromising architecture of a poetic level, representing timeless work that reflects great respect for the past, while projecting clarity that is of the present and the future.”

In a statement released as a response to their being named the 2017 joint Laureates, Pigem said, “It is a great joy and a great responsibility. We are thrilled that this year three professionals, who work closely together in everything we do, are recognised.”

The architects will formally receive their award at a ceremony to be held in Tokyo at the Akasaka Palace on May 20.

Les Cols Restaurant Marquee 2011 Olot, Girona, Spain
Credit: Hisao Suzuki/Eugeni Pons
Soulages Museum, 2014, Rodez, France In collaboration with G. Trégouët
Credit: Hisao Suzuki

Tile image: Les Cols Restaurant Marquee 2011 Olot, Girona, Spain/Credit: Hisao Suzuki
Cover image: Soulages Museum, 2014, Rodez, France In collaboration with G. Trégouët/Credit: Hisao Suzuki