Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta, three architects who have worked closely together for almost 30 years in a deliberate and thoughtful approach to architecture, are recognized with the 2017 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Their works admirably and poetically fulfill the traditional requirements of architecture for physical and spatial beauty along with function and craftsmanship, but what sets them apart is their approach that creates buildings and places that are both local and universal at the same time. They established their office, called RCR for their three first names, in Olot, their hometown in the Catalonian region in the northeast of Spain, resisting the call of the metropolis in favor of remaining closely connected to their roots. The process they have developed is a true collaboration in which neither a part nor whole of a project can be attributed to one partner. Their creative approach is a constant intermingling of ideas and continuous dialogue.
All their works have a strong sense of place and are powerfully connected to the surrounding landscape. This connection comes from understanding—history, the natural topography, customs and cultures, among other things—and observing and experiencing light, shade, colors and the seasons. The siting of buildings, the choice of materials and the geometries used are always intended to highlight the natural conditions and pull them into the building. The Bell-Lloc Winery (2007), in the town of Palamós, near Girona, Spain, for example, a building embedded in the ground, is about the soil that produces the grapes, the cool dark cellars needed for the aging of wine and the color and weight of the earth. The extensive use of recycled steel fuses the building with the earth and the openings between the steel slats allow in hints of light.
The marquee (2011) creating an outdoor dining and event space at Les Cols Restaurant in Olot is another example of the fusion of landscape and minimal modern materials to create a useful and popular venue. Some have said that they are reminded of places for countryside meals with family and friends. The space fits into a valley carved out in the landscape by the architects. Strong walls of volcanic stone support a lightweight and transparent polymer roof to protect against rain and sun. The furniture and vertical hanging blinds that can sub-divide the space are also of clear plastic, which puts the emphasis on food, festivities and the natural setting.
In other works, such as their own office (2007), a former foundry built at the beginning of the 20th century, the juxtaposition of past and present is undertaken in a most thoughtful, clear and respectful way. Just as exterior and interior are closely intertwined in their works, so are new and old. All of the original industrial building that could remain, was left “as is.” By adding new elements only where needed and in contrasting materials, the architects demonstrate their love for both tradition and innovation. The resulting building, which they call Barberí Laboratory, is comprised of varied, flexible and highly functional spaces. While Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta have a deep sense and knowledge of history, they use materials and modern construction to create spaces that could not have been created before.
Community is another word that comes to mind when speaking of the work of Aranda, Pigem and Vilalta. Both in the bright and colorful nursery school in Besalú, Girona, El Petit Comte Kindergarten (2010) and the Sant Antoni-Joan Oliver Library, Senior Citizens Center and Cándida Pérez Gardens in Barcelona (2007), those who will inhabit the buildings are at the forefront of their concerns. It is obvious when seeing the rainbow colors of the tubes that define the exterior of the school that this is for children’s enjoyment, creativity and fantasy. The library, a commission won through a competition, as are many of RCR’s projects, is situated within the fabric of an existing city block, is a needed amenity in this busy part of Barcelona. Visitors are welcomed into the library. The richness and variety of spaces invite exploration and are casual enough to create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The library also acts as a gateway to an interior courtyard. The senior citizens center looks onto this space where children, library goers, neighbors and seniors can mingle.