Mendes da Rocha (1928–2021) began his career in São Paulo, Brazil, in the 1950s as a member of the “Paulist brutalist” avant-garde. He received a degree in architecture in 1954, opened his office in 1955 and soon thereafter created an early masterpiece, the Athletic Club of São Paulo (1957).

Mendes da Rocha has maintained a private practice, taught at the University of São Paulo and acted as President of the Brazilian Institute for Architects. He has received many awards, including the Mies van der Rohe prize for Latin American Architecture (2000). The award paid tribute to the architect’s respectful renovation of the Pinacoteca do Estado, Sao Paulo’s oldest fine arts museum.

One of the most consistently daring of twentieth century architects, Mendes da Rocha has worked notably in the public realm, creating concrete and steel forms of immense power and grace. For the Brazilian pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, he balanced a building on a single point of terrain with audacious elegance. The next year, he placed as a finalist in competition for design of the Centre George Pompidou, Paris. Among his widely known built works is the Museum of Contemporary Art (1975) at the University of São Paulo, the Forma Furniture showroom (1987) in São Paulo and the Brazilian Sculpture Museum (1987–1992). Recent projects include a master plan for Vigo University in Galicia, Spain, and the Boulevard des Sports in Paris, a complex intended to receive the 2008 Olympic Games.

In the imaginative modernist spirit that marks his buildings, Mendes da Rocha designed the Paulistano Armchair (1957) to be part of the living rooms of the Athletic Club of São Paulo. Made by bending a single steel bar and attaching a leather seat and back, the elegant sling chair pushes the limits of structural form, yet remains completely comfortable and functional.

In 2006, Mendes da Rocha received the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The jury cited his “deep understanding of the poetics of space” and an “architecture of profound social engagement.”

Paulo Mendes da Rocha of Brazil Becomes the 2006 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

Paulo Mendes da Rocha has been chosen as the 2006 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The 77-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 honor 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 São Paulo, known loosely as creators of the Paulist brutalist architecture—practicioners whose work, often using simple materials and forms, emphasized an ethical dimension of architecture. He is widely considered the most outstanding architect of 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 own practice, taught for many years at the University of São 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 work...never afraid of innovation or of taking risks...indeed, a worthy choice.”

Among his most widely known built works is the Brazilian Sculpture Museum, a non-traditional concept of a museum, nestled partly underground in a garden in São 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 São Paulo’s oldest Fine Arts Museum, the Pinacoteca do Estado, affirmed his understanding and respect for Brazil’s legacy—the basic structure of the nineteenth century building was simply restored with some striking new functional additions.

Mendes da Rocha revitalized a square in the heart of São 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 Jimenez 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 rigor 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 isolated buildings, but to respond to the eternal question of human habitation. His answers are at the same time classical and audacious: a new força geográfica 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.” 


Read Francesco Dal Co's Essay

Paulo Mendes da Rocha of Sao Paulo, Brazil, inspired by the principles and language of modernism, as well as through his bold use of simple materials, has over the past six decades produced buildings with a deep understanding of the poetics of space. He modifies the landscape and space with his architecture, striving to meet both social and aesthetic human needs.

Whether individual homes or apartments, to a church, sports stadium, art museum, kindergarten, furniture showroom or public plaza, Mendes da Rocha has devoted his career to the creation of architecture guided by a sense of responsibility to the inhabitants of his projects as well as to a broader society.

Adhering to a social vision commensurate with the new world, he reminds us that architecture is foremost a human endeavor inspired by nature’s omnipresence. The vast territory of his country has given this architect a rich lineage to harness and reconcile nature and architecture as congruent forces.

His signature concrete materials and intelligent, yet remarkably straightforward construction methods create powerful and expressive, internationally-recognized buildings. There is no doubt that the raw materials he uses in achieving monumental results have had influences the world over.

He has also proven his mastery of restoration and renovation, reaffirming his understanding and respect for his country’s legacy and his own belief in the relevancy of the architecture of our time. Mendes da Rocha looks at history as it relates to the future. He has dedicated himself to a search for a synthesis of design and form that is as beautiful as it is technically perfect.

In his own words, his definition of architecture is “…the transformation of nature, a total fusion of science, art and technology in a sublime statement of human dignity and intelligence through the settlements we build for ourselves…”

All of these qualities and accomplishments have qualified him as the recipient of the 2006 Pritzker Architecture Prize.


Jury Members

Lord Palumbo (Chairman)
Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi
Rolf Fehlbaum
Frank Gehry
Carlos Jimenez
Victoria Newhouse
Karen Stein
Martha Thorne (Executive Director)

Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

The Dolmabahçe Palace on the European shore of the Bosphorus in Istanbul is a fitting symbol of the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire. The word "Dolmabahce" in English means "the filled garden," an appropriate name for the palace sited on land reclaimed from the sea. Built between 1843-1856, the architecture of the palace reflects a blend of various European styles with strong influence from France. This and other palaces, kiosks and summer residences for the Sultans were designed by the Balyan family of court architects. Some members of this Armenian family trained in Europe. Upon completion, the Sultans moved to Dolmabahce Palace and never resided again at Topkapi Palace, which had hosted them for nearly four centuries.

The three-storied Dolmabahçe Palace has a symmetrical plan with over three hundred rooms and halls. The entrance section of the palace was used for the receptions and meetings of the Sultan. The middle is the large ballroom, and the wing behind it, was used as the harem. There are two monumental gates, one, on the land side, is extremely ornate. Beautiful gardens surround this seaside palace. This palace holds special significance for Turks as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, died here on November 10, 1938.

The 2006 Pritzker Architecture Prize ceremony began with a reception and tour of the Palace, followed by the ceremony and dinner on the grounds. Participants in the official ceremony were the Prime Minister of Turkey, the Mayor of Istanbul, and representing the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Martha Thorne, Executive Director, Lord Palumbo, Chair of the Jury, and Thomas J. Pritzker, President of The Hyatt Foundation. Paolo Mendes da Rocha, as is customary of all laureates, pronounced an acceptance speech.


Read Paulo Mendes da Rocha's Ceremony Acceptance Speech

Read Lord Peter Palumbo's Ceremony Speech

Read Martha Thorne's Ceremony Speech


Dolmabahçe Palace

Ceremony Highlights

Full Ceremony