HIGHLIGHT: RCR ARQUITECTES

HIGHLIGHT: RCR ARQUITECTES

Rafael Aranda (1961), Carme Pigem (1962) and Ramon Vilalta (1960) completed their studies in architecture at the School of Architecture in Valles in 1987, and founded their studio, RCR Arquitectes, in their native city of Olot, in the Spanish province of Girona, the following year.

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. 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. 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 architects built a slatted-steel box too, with angled sides and open ends, over a plaza sandwiched between two old structures, to form a covered public space for theatre productions, La Lira Theater (2011).

The Bell-Lloc Winery
La Lira Theater

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. The space fits into a valley carved out in the landscape by the architects.  Strong walls of volcanic stone support a light weight 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.

The marquee

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.

Barberí Laboratory

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. 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.

El Petit Comte Kindergarten
Sant Antoni – Joan Oliver Library, Senior Citizens Center and Cándida Pérez Gardens

The architects have also tackled important works outside their home in Catalonia. They have built in Belgium and France. The Soulages Museum (2014) in Rodez, France, for example, houses the works of the abstract painter Pierre Soulages and forms a symbiosis with the artist, who seems to paint with light. This building of steel and strong geometric shapes cantilevers over the site, seeming to defy gravity and like many of their other works is in dialogue with the landscape. The architects have sought to create “a space that is as close to nature as possible, enhancing our sense that we are part of it.”

Soulages Museum

Each building designed by these architects is special and is uncompromising of its time and place, such as Rural House (2007) and Row Houses (2012). Their works are always the fruit of true collaboration and at the service of the community. They understand that architecture and its surroundings are intimately intertwined and know that the choice of materials and the craft of building are powerful tools for creating lasting and meaningful spaces. For these reasons, exemplified in all their built work, and for their ability to express the local, but also the universal, uniting us with one another through architecture, Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta are awarded the 2017 Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Rural House
Row Houses

Source: pritzkerprize.com

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