Learn Why This Tiny Spanish Studio Just Won Architecture’s Biggest Prize
The Pritzker Prize, the Nobel Prize of architecture, tends to honor solo acts—Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, I.M Pei, Norman Foster. Architects who build grand manifestos in cities around the world. Among this august group is now RCR Arquitectes, a tiny studio in Olot, Spain, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
The trio of Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, and Ramón Vilalta stand out for a focus on small-scale, provincial design—the anti-starchitect. Since founding their firm in 1988, they have mostly worked in and around northern Catalonia. They have designed a running track in their home city; a kindergarten in Besalú, a nearby village that dates to the Middle Ages; a park in Bersu, a city of 4,000 overlooking the Mediterranean. One of the longest-distance projects that the studio has completed is a cooking school in Nègrepelisse, a four-hour trip into southern France. Here are eight projects that illustrate their extreme local approach.
Bell-Lloc Winery, Palamós, Spain
The cellars of Bell-Lloc, a nearby winery in the Costa Brava, are located between the vineyards and the woods. RCR connected the two partly underground with a promenade that unites the building and the landscape. Tilted, recycled-steel sheets allow natural light, open air, even rain inside. The ever-changing shadows reflect its mix of spatial geometry and the materials made of recycled steel and stone.
Tossols-Basil Athletics Track, Olot, Spain
In their home town of Olot is a park, Tossols-Basil, located at the edge of the city and the river. The architects faced a dilemma here: Either clear large amounts of slow-growing oak trees or succumb to environmentalists who wanted no change at all. The solution was to site the athletic track in a forest clearing and combine nature and sport in such a way that runners appear and disappear as they make their way around the track. Even the seating—a simple two-row terrace—uses the natural topography. Once again, RCR employs only one material, Cor-Ten steel, which blends easily into its natural setting.
Row House, Olot, Spain
A new house, inserted into the space between the two walls of an old house in Olot, has been conceived as a single room with “floating” platforms at different levels to create the living spaces inside. Several of the platforms serve as seating benches, and although the space is almost entirely open, privacy concerns are allayed with deft designs. Two side corridors that house staircases, bathrooms, and utility rooms run along the depth of the building, and are encased with steel slats that extend to the ceiling. The wall toward the back garden is glass, fusing interior and exterior.
El Petit Comte Kindergarten, Besalú, Spain
Twenty minutes away from Olot, RCR designed a school made of vertical tubes—some of them structural—of different diameters to create a perimeter using a rainbow of colors. Some of the tubes rotate and invite the children to play. Floor-to-ceiling glass encloses much of the building, so that natural light, full of color, filters in. All the classrooms are designed with views of the courtyard, with its steel and Plexiglas tubes, and the mountains beyond.
Soulages Museum, Rodez, France
Located in the small southern French city of Rodez, the Musée Soulages is one of the best illustrations of the studio’s use of Cor-Ten steel. The museum was built to house the collection of abstract artist Pierre Soulages, and it contains a document center, temporary exhibition space, children’s workshops, and storage spaces. The architects collaborated with another local studio, Passelac & Roques Architectes, to merge the building and landscape together.
La Cuisine Art Center, Nègrepelisse, France
When this 13th-century fort-like castle in Nègrepelisse, a village in the Midi-Pyrenees region of southwest France, was designated for a new program focusing on food, RCR won the competition to renovate it. Like many of their projects, the building is structured so that the windows provides continuous views of the outside, especially the inner courtyard. The new facilities around the old castle include a kitchen and exhibition and educational spaces on one side, while the workshops for children, artists, and performers, and the administration areas are on the other.
Les Cols Restaurant Marquee, Olot, Spain
RCR has created a semi-open event and banqueting space near Le Cols restaurant in Olot, Spain. The terrain was hollowed out to be able to make the structure unobtrusive, but also to allow for beautiful views of the surrounding volcanic countryside. The stone that was removed was returned to the site in the form of walls, embankments, and pavement, and the transparent Plexiglas tables and chairs seem to be suspended in air. Likewise, steel catenaries supporting the roof give it an appearance of floating.