The Pritzker Prize for 2017 was just announced, and while it feels good to continue to celebrate the prize jury’s now years-long retreat from rewarding starchitects, the multitude of excuses offered for the Spanish (or perhaps the Catalonian) trio’s prize leaves one rolling one’s eyes.
It’s been a nine years since the Pritzker went to a standard-issue starchitect, Jean Nouvel, eight if you expand the definition to include Peter Zumthor, and a dozen years since it went to an American, Thom Mayne. This year’s selection was immediately linked by the architectural punditocracy to issues of diversity and multiculturalism. The triumvirate includes a woman. Their national identity, while admittedly European, basks presumptively in the Catalan independence movement. A hint of respect for collaboration and regionalism also characterizes the spin that spun back and forth yesterday between the Pritzker jury and the profession. The idea of nuance, often hard to detect in modern architecture, was also granted copious strokage.
The work of winners Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, and Ramon Vilalta, of RCR Arquitectes displays the conventional and now seemingly obligatory ability to design buildings that have little – nay, nothing – in common with their firm’s prior work, or with that of fellow modernists. Some of their buildings have a grittiness that, when it is not too akin to rust, gives them almost a natural appeal that harks back to the best work of Zumthor.
So it is difficult to decide which of their buildings to place atop this post. The Soulages Museum, a cubic Corten-clad building in France, will just have to do. It looks like an alley in the run-down industrial district of the Rust Belt, even though it is in France. I lifted it from an article on fastcodesign.com by Diana Budds, gaily subtitled “RIP, Starchitecture. And Good Riddance.” Its Pritzker coverage, “Three Little-Known Spanish Architects Win Architecture’s Top Prize,” has a relatively extensive slide show of the firm’s work. A second, below, is the El Petit Comte Kindergarten, in Spain. It looks like a cardboard box franchise warehouse painted to look as if it were designed to house machinery for the processing and packaging of very young children.