Spanish winners of Pritzker architecture prize 'dialogue' with nature

Daniel BOSQUE
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Pritzker Prize 2017 winner, RCR Architects, formed by three Spanish architects, Rafael Aranda (R), Carme Pigem (C) and Ramon Vialta pose in their office, the "Barberi Space" in Olot on March 2, 2017

Very little had changed Thursday at the offices of architectural firm RCR Arquitectes, owned by Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta, the three Spanish winners of the prestigious Pritzker Prize.

The relatively unknown trio won the prize on Wednesday for modern works that are deeply rooted in their local surroundings.

Speaking with AFP from their offices in the Catalonian town of Olot, Aranda, 55, and Vilalta, 56, explained what led them to work there, and how their work is meant to inspire and awaken people's spirituality and imagination.

Pigem, 54, was unavailable for comment after losing his voice the day after the announcement.

"We decided to come here, to our home in Olot ... in the hope that our shared work would allow us to do architecture, that it would give us strength," Aranda said. "Since then we have added people who also wanted to become part of our shared creativity."

Nestled deep in the countryside of Spain's northeast, Olot is surrounded by beech trees, marshes and volcanoes -- a dramatic natural landscape that has long inspired their work.

The prize announcement made special note of where they work, saying that in a globalised world, people increasingly fear "we will lose our local values, our local art, and our local customs".

It said the trio "tell us that it may be possible to have both... our roots firmly in place and our arms outstretched to the rest of the world," it said.

"That's what has always animated us," Aranda said, "being able to feel the place, the people, family, having that essence."

The Pritzker choice was seen as a move away from the celebrity architects that have dominated the field in favour of the Spanish trio who have worked together for 30 years in their hometown.

"The fact of working in a place connected to nature really helped us to understand to dialogue with her...on the level of natural materials: rocks, steel, crystal," Vilalta said.

He added that it was crucial for them to use materials where "you can feel the passage of time".

"Inert materials, that do not change with the passage of time, do not really interest us."

Among the trio's most celebrated buildings are the La Lira Theatre public space in Spain and the Soulages Museum in Rodez in southwestern France.

Their buildings reflect the simplicity and colours of their region, such as the omnipresent dark steel in their work that calls to mind volcanic rocks.

"We want to open the doors to the part (of humanity) that is the most sensitive, the most spiritual," Vilalta said. "That's what we would like to (inspire) with our buildings: that they open people's minds, imagination, and emotions."

The prize will be awarded to the three Spaniards in Tokyo on May 20.