Rafael Moneo of Spain Named the 1996 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

José Rafael Moneo, a 58 year-old architect who lives and works in Madrid, Spain, has been named the nineteenth Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. In making the announcement, Jay A. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, which established the award in 1979, quoted from the jury's citation which describes Moneo as "an architect with tremendous range, each of whose buildings is unique, but at the same time, uniquely recognizable as being from his palette." Moneo is the first Spanish architect to be selected for his profession's highest honor which bestows a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion when the formal presentation is made on June 12 in the construction site of The Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Pritzker affirmed the jury's choice, saying, "Moneo not only practices architecture in the most real sense of designing buildings, taking into account all aspects of their construction, but also, he teaches his theories utilizing all his experience and knowledge, in effect sustaining these parallel efforts by enriching each with the other." Moneo has taught on the faculties of Spain's finest schools of architecture, the Universities of both Madrid and Barcelona, and for five years was the chairman of the department of architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he remains on the faculty still, in addition to lecturing around the world at major colleges and museums.

Most of Moneo's projects have been in his native country, but a fine example of his work was completed in the United States in 1993: the Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Another project in Houston, Texas is on his drawing board for an addition to that city's Fine Arts Museum, an existing Mies van der Rohe structure.

In Spain, his most critically acclaimed work is the National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida. Completed in 1986, the museum, which has been praised for its architectural monumentality that enhances the exhibits within, is constructed over the site of archaeological excavations of what was the most important city in Spain during the Roman Empire.

From his first work, which Moneo describes as "a transformer factory whose brick and steel volumes produce a rich and varied profile," to the minimalist monument under construction at San Sebastian, two translucent cubes that will house the Kursaal Auditorium and Congress Center. Between these two examples is an enormous range of designs encompassing residences and apartments, art museums, a railway station, an airport, a factory, a hotel, banks, a city hall and other office buildings.

Bill Lacy, executive director of the prize, quoted further from the formal citation from the jury which states, "Moneo takes on each new commission as a fresh exercise. He draws on an incredible reservoir of concepts and ideas which he filters through the circumstances of the project."

Lacy, who is an architect himself and president of the State University of New York at Purchase, elaborated, "In many of his writings and lectures, Moneo has made it clear that he does not consider architecture as merely the brilliant expression of an idea in the form of a drawing. He considers construction an essential part of the design process; architecture must be perceived as a built work to be reality." In fact, Moneo has said, "Architecture only reaches its true status when it is realized, when it acquires its being as an object, and when it is transformed into material reality as a building."

Of his built works, the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation which provides a study center and exhibition space on the island of Mallorca is described by Moneo as "reacting energetically against the world built around it. (He refers to the encroaching construction of buildings nearby.) The gallery is something of a military fortress." Another project for the housing of art was the rehabilitation of the Villahermosa Palace in Madrid for the collection of nearly 800 paintings of Baron von Thyssen. In this case, Moneo tried to retain as much of the original architecture of the 18th century structure as possible


Another of Moneo's important projects that won an international competition in 1986 is the Diagonal Building in collaboration with Manuel de Solá-Morales, a mixed use structure for offices, apartment hotel, and commercial center in Barcelona. The building, nearly a thousand feet long is parallel to the Diagonal Avenue with a park behind. "In order that such an important volume would not be perceived as an undifferentiated mass, both the plan and profile are broken and segmented, and the building is perforated by passageways in those places responding to a variety of urban circumstances," explains Moneo.

Two of his major projects relate to air and rail transport. His first was for the Spanish Ministry of Transportation which wanted a total overhaul of the Atocha Railway Station in Madrid, quadrupling its capacity. The old canopy which was retained with the addition of a clock tower is one of the key elements of the project. Moneo's plan incorporated a station square, the long distance and the commuter train stations. For his San Pablo Airport in Seville, Moneo explains that the immense departure concourse with the deep blue color of the vaults as its main feature, is meant to be the point of encounter between the sky and the land.

In Jaén, Spain, Moneo designed a branch office for the Bank of Spain which was completed in 1988. He describes the project, "From the very start, the idea was to fit the needs of the program into a single, closed, perfect solid. The degree of diversity is achieved through a system of voids connecting floors and spaces. The exterior maintains the character of a fortress."

Another project in Seville was a new branch office of the insurance company, Previsión Española, a three story structure that fits into the traditional architecture of the city.

In 1992, Moneo received the Spanish government's highest award, The Gold Medal for Achievement in Fine Arts. The French Academy of Architecture's Gold Medal and the International Union of Architects Gold Medal were both presented this year. He received the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1993; that same year he was awarded the Schock Prize in Visual Arts in Sweden, adding to a list of numerous other fellowships and prizes, including the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is to honor 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 Rafael Moneo as the 1996 Laureate consists of J. Carter Brown, director emeritus of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (who is chairman of the jury and a founding member); and alphabetically, Giovanni Agnelli, chairman of Fiat from Torino, Italy; Charles Correa, architect of Bombay, India; Ada Louise Huxtable, author and architectural critic of New York; Toshio Nakamura, editor-in-chief of A+U architectural publications of Tokyo, Japan; Jorge Silvetti, architect and chairman of the department of architecture Harvard Graduate School of Design; and juror emeritus, Lord Rothschild, chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund of Great Britain and formerly the chairman of that country's National Gallery of Art. 


Read Rafael Moneo's Essay