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Da Rocha Receives Pritzker Prize for Architecture

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Da Rocha Receives Pritzker Prize for Architecture

Arts & Life

Da Rocha Receives Pritzker Prize for Architecture

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Now, for a story on the beauty to be found in concrete, steel, and glass. The Nobel of architecture, the Pritzker Prize, this year is honoring one architect for his bold use of those materials. As Chicago Public Radio's Edward Lifson reports.

Mr. EDWARD LIFSON (Reporter, Chicago Public Radio): High rises of concrete, stadia of concrete, houses, even his own, in concrete; a chapel in, you guessed it, concrete. All in Brazil where he lives. This year's Pritzker Architecture Prize goes to Paulo Mendes da Rocha.

Mr. PAULO MENDES DA ROCHA (Architect, Pritzker Recipient, Brazil): (Speaking Foreign Language)

Mr. LIFSON: I was happy and surprised, he says. He's 78-years-old, leans left politically, and still turns out major projects. The Pritzker jury noted that in six decades of work, Mendes de Rocha designed honest buildings.

Brazil was not rich and lacked highly trained construction workers, so he created simple buildings with simple forms in the simplest of materials. It's called Brazilian Brutalist, modernism for a new-world country. But that's the name of a style, and architecture is not about style, says Paulo Mendes de Rocha.

Mr. DA ROCHA: (Speaking Foreign Language)

Mr. LIFSON: He says, architecture is a human endeavor that's inspired by the nature all around us and that we must transform nature and fuse science, art and technology into a sublime statement of human dignity.

Ms. MARTHA THORNE (Executive Director, Pritzker Architecture Prize): Well, if I could cite one project, for example, in Sao Paulo, in the center of the city, is a plaza that he restored and renovated.

Mr. LIFSON: Martha Thorne is the executive director of the Pritzker Prize. She says that plaza's most striking feature is a curved steel canopy. It appears to float over the plaza.

Ms. THORNE: It's huge. It's massive. It's strong. But yet, it delicately is placed above this plaza and forming that balance, which I think he's searching for in his architecture--the balance between function and poetry, the balance between intelligence and creativity.

Mr. LIFSON: She also finds these qualities in Mendes da Rocha's Brazilian museum of sculpture in Sao Paulo. The architect also designed furniture popular in Brazil. No, it's not in concrete.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha is the third Latin American to receive the Pritzker Prize. Nicolai Ouroussoff is the architecture critic of The New York Times.

Mr. NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF (Architecture Critic, New York Times): I think it's a great choice and I think the Pritzker committee has made a point of trying not to appear to just be chasing after whoever happens to be the hot architect of the moment, and one of the things I like about da Rocha is that he has always been very true to his values.

You know, he has a strain of brutalism in his work but there's also a real sense of kind of, nature and the relationship between indoor and outdoor space. But he's stayed true to those values all the way through.

Mr. LIFSON: Like a rock, which, after all, is the last part of the name of Paulo Mendes da Rocha.

For NPR News, I'm Edward Lifson.

MONTAGNE: You can see photos of the Brazilian architect's work in Concrete That Charms at

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