In six decades of work, the Brazilian architect has been creating "honest" buildings, according to the Pritzker jury. His projects include high-rises made of concrete, stadiums of concrete, houses –- even his own –- of concrete, and a chapel in — you guessed it — concrete.
Brazil was not rich and it lacked highly trained construction workers, so da Rocha created simple buildings with simple forms in the simplest of materials. Called "Brazilian Brutalist," it's a modernist style for a new-world country.
But architecture is not about style, da Rocha says.
"Architecture is a human endeavor inspired by the nature all around us," he says. "We must transform nature; fuse science, art and technology into a sublime statement of human dignity."
Martha Thorne, executive director of the Pritzker Prize, says that one of da Rocha's greatest projects is a plaza that he restored and renovated in the center of Sao Paolo. Its most striking feature is a curved, steel canopy that appears to float over the plaza.
"It's huge, it's massive, it's strong," Thorne says. "Yet it delicately is placed above this plaza and forming that balance... between function and poetry, the balance between intelligence and creativity."
Thorne says that she also finds these qualities in da Rocha’s "Brazilian Museum of Sculpture" in Sao Paolo.
Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for The New York Times, says that da Rocha is a great choice for this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize.
"I think the Pritzker committee has made a point of not ... chasing after whoever happens to be the hot architect of the moment," Ouroussoff says. "And one thing I like about da Rocha is he has always been true to his values. There's a strain of brutalism in his work, but there's also a sense of nature and the relationship between indoor and outdoor space, but he stayed true to those values all the way through."