RCR: the Pritzker Prize for consistency
Architects have reason to celebrate. Not only Spanish architects, and not even only Catalan architects. All architects do. Yesterday, the Pritzker Prize was awarded to RCR Arquitectes, in actual recognition – this time around – for the top-quality architectural work carried out by a team of professionals who are aware of their responsibilities and significance. With this accolade, the intrinsic values of our discipline are being rewarded. These are values that unfortunately had been neglected in recent years because they lacked the glitter to shine bright in our “showbiz society”, as Guy Debord defined it in his famous 1967 publication.
Namely, I am referring to some unquestionable values that distinguish the work of this trio of architects – Ramón Vilalta, Carme Pigem and Rafael Aranda — recognised for the consistency of their work over the past two decades, deeply rooted in their community, Olot, while at the same time striving to innovate and evolve towards universal values. Their most outstanding contributions and achievements encompass the pursuit of a serene expression of beauty, stemming from their intention to work with space; sensible building endeavouring to involve all relevant crafts; orientation towards a clear architectural idea achieved by building close complicity with both the client and with future users; sensitive interpretation of the natural landscape with a view to moving past the nature versus artifice dichotomy when inhabiting those new places.
While this is not the right place to flesh out and evaluate the unquestionable architectural virtues of their work, it should perhaps be noted that these architects have achieved such consistency through perseverance and confidence in their work. And this is praiseworthy. They were able to tap into their own convictions to morphologically, typologically, and phenomenologically explore the unknown. Fitting with great talents, each of their designs belongs to a consistent and unmatched sequence. The shapes they use are quintessential. Their mindfulness of the landscape and sublimation of the senses in their construction are in tune with the (thin, yet vigorous) contemporary line of work that is reserved for the most sensitive souls. Thus, they align with theoretical stances that can be found in The eyes of the skin by Juhani Pallasmaa or in Atmospheres by Peter Zumthor.
In spite of the growth of their architecture studio over the past few years, their organisation still retains that authenticity that comes from the direct knowledge of the work they conduct on a daily basis. Which is quite the opposite to how large “starchitect” studios have been operating since their transformation into “design multinationals”. The quality of the work of reduced-scale teams is largely accountable for them having managed to preserve their own identity, and also to contribute community identity of La Garrotxa, near Girona. Let us trust that this well-deserved award will not change this, and that these architects will be able to excel in the face of the new challenges that surely lie ahead, probably in new, geographically and culturally distant places.