April 10, 2006
by Canadian Architect
Paulo Mendes da Rocha has been chosen as the 2006 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The 78-year-old architect becomes the second laureate from Brazil, Oscar Niemeyer being the first, chosen in 1988.
In announcing the jury’s choice, Thomas J. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, said, “Mendes da Rocha has shown a deep understanding of space and scale through the great variety of buildings he has designed, from private residences, housing complexes, a church, museums and sports stadia to urban plans for public space. While few of his buildings were realized outside of Brazil, the lessons to be learned from his work, both as a practicing architect and a teacher, are universal.”
The formal ceremony for what has come to be known throughout the world as architecture’s highest honour will be held on May 30, 2006 in Istanbul, Turkey. At that time, a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion are bestowed.
The new laureate began his career in the 1950s and was part of what was then considered the avant-garde in So Paulo, known loosely as creators of the Paulist brutalist architecture practitioners whose work, often using simple materials and forms, emphasized an ethical dimension of architecture. He is widely considered the most outstanding architect in Brazil. He has steadfastly devoted his career to the creation of buildings and spaces guided by a sense of responsibility toward the residents of his buildings and the broader society.
During a career that spans six decades, he has maintained his won practice, taught for many years at the University of So Paulo, and contributed to the professional community through his work as president of the Brazilian Institute for Architects. He has lectured extensively throughout South America and Europe. He has received many awards, but it was the Mies van der Rohe Prize for Latin American Architecture in 2000 that brought international recognition.
Pritzker Prize jury chairman Lord Palumbo commented, “Mendes da Rocha brings the joyful lilt of Brazil to his worknever afraid of innovation or of taking risksindeed, a worthy choice.”
Among his most widely known built works in the Brazilian Sculpture Museum, a non-traditional concept of a museum, nestled partly underground in a garden in So Paulo. He made bold use of a giant concrete beam on the exterior that traverses the site. His Forma Furniture Showroom in the same city is considered an icon of his approach to architecture. The front has a window that spans the length of the building, opening the building to the cityscape, a recurring theme of his work. His renovation of So Paulo’s oldest Fine Arts Museum, the Pinacoteca de Estado, affirmed his understanding and respect for Brazil’s legacy the basic structure of the 19th-century building was simply restored with some striking new functional additions. Mendes da Rocha revitalized a square in the heart of So Paulo, called Patriarch Plaza, adding an enormous steel canopy that appears to float over the square.
Internationally, he was a finalist in the competition for the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1972, and was the architect of Brazil’s Pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan in 1970. Currently, in Galicia in the northwest part of Spain, he is developing a master plan for the Technological City, part of the University of Vigo. His task is to integrate new buildings library, engineering departments, student residences, administration offices designed by several different Spanish architects into an overall landscape scheme that also fosters connections between buildings.
Martha Thorne, speaking as the executive director of the Pritzker Prize, quoting from the jury citation which states, “Inspired by the principles and language of modernism, he brings a renewed force to each of his projects through his bold use of simple materials and a deep understanding of the poetics of space.”
Juror Carlos Jiminez from Houston who is professor of architecture at Rice University, said “he builds with exceptional economy to achieve an architecture of profound social engagement, an architecture that transcends the limits of construction to dazzle with poetic rigour and imagination.”
Balkrishna Doshi, Pritzker juror from India, spoke of Mendes da Rocha’s work, “It is not impossible to create generous architecture even in situations with minimum resources and numerous constraints. What one needs is a largeness of vision and a desire to create something that people can touch, feel, and in which they can participate.”
“For Mendes da Rocha, the meaning of architecture is not to create isolate buildings but to respond to the eternal question of human habitation. His answers are at the same time classical and audacious: a new forca geografica for a new society,” is juror Rolf Fehlbaum’s comment.
Another juror, Victoria Newhouse, says, “The jury was deeply impressed by this practitioner’s ability to create powerful structures working within the technical limitations of his culture.”
Juror Karen Stein commented, “As the translation of his surname “of the rock” implies, he has steadfastly adhered to the experimental approach upon which he established his own architectural practice over half a century ago, consistently pushing the sculptural limits of structural form to surprising and often poetic effect.”
The purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is to honour annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.
The distinguished jury that selected Mendes da Rocha as the 2006 Laureate consists of its chairman, Lord Palumbo, internationally known architectural patron of London, chairman of the trustees, Serpentine Gallery, former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, former chairman of the Tate Gallery Foundation, and former trustee of the Mies van der Rohe Archive at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and alphabetically: Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi, architect, planner and professor of architecture of Ahmedabad, India; Rolf Fehlbaum, chairman of the board, Vitra in Basel, Switzerland; Frank O. Gehry, architect and Pritzker Laureate 1989 from Los Angeles, California; Carlos Jimenez, professor, Rice University School of Architecture, principal, Carlos Jiminez Studio in Houston, Texas; Victoria Newhouse architectural historian and author, founder and director of the Architectural History Foundation, New York, New York; and Karen Stein, editorial director of Phaidon Press in New York.
The prize presentation ceremony moves to different locations around the world each year, paying homage to historic and contemporary architecture. Last, year, the ceremony was held in Chicago and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry, in Millennium Park. The previous year, it was in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. In the year prior, ceremonies have been at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid, Spain; Michelangelo’s Campidoglio in Rome, Italy; Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia; as well as at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.
The list of venues goes on to include not only a great many of the great museums in the United States, but also many other countries including France, England, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Japan.
“This year, by going to Istanbul,” explains Hyatt Foundation president, Thomas Pritzker, “we hope to increase the awareness of architecture in a country that has historically been the crossroads of eastern and western cultures for many centuries.”
The late Philip Johnson was the first Pritzker Laureate in 1979. The late Luis Barragn of Mexico was named in 1980. The late James Stirling of Great Britain was elected in 1981, Kevin Roche in 1982, Ieoh Ming Pei in 1983, and Richard Meier in 1984. Hans Hollein of Austria was the 1985 Laureate. Gottfried Bhm of Ger
many received the prize in 1986. The late Kenzo Tange was the first Japanese architect to receive the prize in 1987; Fumihiko Maki was the second from Japan in 1993; and Tadao Ando the third in 1995. Robert Venturi received the honour in 1991, and Alvaro Siza of Portugal in 1992. Christian de Portzamparc of France was elected Pritzker Laureate in 1994. The late Gordon Bunshaft of the United States and Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil were named in 1988. Frank Gehry was the recipient in 1989, the late Aldo Rossi of Italy in 1990. In 1996, Rafael Moneo of Spain was the Laureate; in 1997 Sverre Fehn of Norway; in 1998 Renzo Piano of Italy, in 1999 Sir Norman Foster of the UK, and in 2000, Rem Koolhaas of the Netherlands. In 2001, two architects from Switzerland received the honour: Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. Australian Glenn Murcutt received the prize in 2002. Jorn Utzon of Denmark was honoured in 2003; Zaha Hadid of the UK in 2004; and Thom Mayne of the United States in 2005.
The field of architecture was chosen by the Pritzker family because of their keen interest in building due to their involvement with developing the Hyatt hotels around the world; also because architecture was a creative endeavour not included in the Nobel Prizes. The procedures were modelled after the Nobels, with the final selection being made by the international jury with all deliberations and voting in secret. Nominations are continuous from year to year with hundreds of nominees from countries all around the world being considered each year.