Heritage Forum

The 2017 Pritzker surprise

Apr 4, 2017 | News

The recipients of the 2017 Pritzker Prize for architecture is the fairly unknown firm of RCR Arquitectes from Catalonia, Spain.

RCR Arquitectes


With this announcement, the ‘Nobel prize’ for architecture, as the Pritzker is also known, has been awarded to only the third woman in the prize’s 38-year history. Carmen Pigem, one of the partners at RCR Arquitectes, started the firm with her two colleagues, Rafael Aranda and Ramon Vilalta, in 1988.

According to ArchDaily, the choice of recipients led to interesting responses from various news media. RCR Arquitectes doesn’t have the international presence or high profile that many of the previous winners had. The term ‘starchitects’, often given to architects who trade on their name as much as their built reputation, is not applicable and has further fuelled the media in deciding whether the recipients are worthy of the high honour, or if the this year’s award smells of politics.

In making their decision, the Jury seems to have taken the complexity of today’s world into account: “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.”

Soulages Museum

La Lira, RCR Arquitectes

Unreservedly positive in their response, the Financial Times writes of RCR: “The architecture they have collectively created in the years since they founded their practice in 1988 is some of the most ethereal, exquisite and, yes, beautiful architecture of modern times.”

Estanque, RCR Arquitectes

Curbed supports this wholeheartedly: “Prizes should be given to make a difference in people’s careers, not to help the rich (in praise and wealth) get richer. It doesn’t sound like RCR Arquitectes wants or needs help, this is instead a positive affirmation of some old-fashioned architectural values.”

Gallery of Bell-Lloc Winery, RCR Arquitectes

In their reaction, FastCo. Design describes RCR as a “firm that has quietly reinvented regional design”. It also rejoices in the supposed ‘end’ to starchitects.

But because of their low profile and, maybe also because of the regional quality of their work, some media are very critical of the choice. Wired criticised the Jury, saying that the award is not meant for ‘identity politics’. The LA Times takes it even further by comparing the Jury’s decision with that of Trump or Brexit supporters. It also highlights the inconsistency this creates when compared to previous winners, who had big international presence.

A series of videos on the work of RCR Arquitectes can be accessed below. Decide for yourself whether they deserved to win the 2017 Pritzker Prize or whether politics is at play.

One day in Barberi by Carles Sanchez

RCR Arquitectes – All creativity

RCR Arquitectes – Untitled (people, landscape, office)

RCR Arquitectes – Intro (Eng)

RCR Arquitectes – The path of pearls

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