Architecture’s most distinguished award just went to a relatively unknown firm from Catalonia. The Pritzker Prize recipients Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, and Ramon Vilalta from RCR Arquitectes have completed few projects outside of northeast Spain, but their elegant work emphasizing the environment has gained global attention.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Barberí Laboratory, Barberí Laboratory by RCR Arquitectes, Javier Lorenzo Domínguez

The trio started their firm in Olot, Catalonia in 1988. They’ve designed projects as diverse as an athletics track to a kindergarten. Pritzker jury chair Glenn Murcutt, an Australian architect, said of RCR Arquitectes, “They’ve demonstrated that unity of a material can lend such incredible strength and simplicity to a building. The collaboration of these three architects produces uncompromising architecture of a poetic level, representing timeless work that reflects great respect for the past, while projecting clarity that is of the present and future.”

Related: 2016 Pritzker Prize awarded to Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Barberí Laboratory, Barberí Laboratory by RCR Arquitectes, Hisao Suzuki

The firm emphasizes structures that will last. They eschew trends in favor of well-done construction. They’re known for taking care to fit structures in beautifully with surrounding nature. They sometimes will design custom furniture for the buildings, finding it hard to find other furniture that fits their vision. There are even rumors they ask clients to sign contracts saying they won’t change the buildings since they constructed so precisely.

Many of RCR Arquitectes’ projects can be found in Catalonia, although they have also designed a museum and art center in France. Recycled steel or plastic are often among the building materials they utilize.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Tossols-Basil Athletics Track

Tossols-Basil Athletics Track

Their Tossols-Basil Athletics Track in Girona, Spain winds through oak forest clearings, deftly avoiding trees, and is green to match the natural surroundings.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Tossols-Basil Athletics Track

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Bell-Lloc Winery

Bell-Lloc Winery

A sloped pathway takes visitors down to their Bell-Lloc Winery, also in Girona, beneath a roof of recycled steel. The dark interior, broken up by light streaming through slots in the roof, provides visitors with a new perspective on winemaking.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Bell-Lloc Winery

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, El Petit Comte Kindergarten

El Petit Comte Kindergarten

Their El Petit Comte Kindergarten lacks conventional walls; instead, colorful plastic tubes let light filter playfully through. Some are solid and others can be turned, allowing children to interact and play with the building itself.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, El Petit Comte Kindergarten

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Barberí Laboratory, Barberí Laboratory by RCR Arquitectes, Hisao Suzuki

Barberí Laboratory

Even RCR Arquitectes’ office, Barberí Laboratory, provides a glimpse into their unique design. They converted an old 20th century foundry, preserving older features of the building like crumbling walls while adding massive glass windows to flood the space with natural light.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Barberí Laboratory, Barberí Laboratory by RCR Arquitectes, Hisao Suzuki

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Soulages Museum

Soulages Museum

The Soulages Museum is one of RCR Arquitectes’ projects in France and houses artwork by abstract artist Pierre Soulage. The firm utilized Cor-Ten steel, which will evolve over time.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Soulages Museum

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, La Lira Theater Public Open Space

La Lira Theater Public Open Space

The demolishment of the old La Lira Theater left a void in Girona, Spain. So RCR Arquitectes created a unique public square there, hearkening back to the size of the theater while creating a space overlooking the Ter River that could be used for many different activities.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, La Lira Theater Public Open Space

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Les Cols Restaurant Marquee

Les Cols Restaurant Marquee

Stone walls support tubes comprising the roof of the Les Cols Restaurant Marquee; the weight of the tubes causes them to gently drape downward. The semi-open space fills a hollowed-out area of the volcanic countryside in Olot, Spain, allowing it to blend in.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Les Cols Restaurant Marquee

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Sant Antoni - Joan Oliver Library

Sant Antoni – Joan Oliver Library

This Barcelona library includes a tree-filled courtyard open to the public that serves as an extra reading room for the library. A senior citizens center can also make use of the courtyard.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Sant Antoni - Joan Oliver Library

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, La Cuisine Art Center

La Cuisine Art Center

RCR Arquitectes started the La Cuisine Art Center with a 13th century castle in France. They renovated and constructed new steel and glass kitchen and exhibition rooms by a courtyard, allowing people to pursue the design and art of cooking.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, La Cuisine Art Center

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Row House

Row House

Row House is located in RCR Arquitectes home town, on the site of an old house torn down. The architects kept the original main facade, as per town requirements, but erected a home that has what they describe as floating platforms, seen from the outside by a large glass window.

RCR Arquitectes, Pritzker Prize, 2017 Pritzker Prize, Spain, Catalonia,Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, Ramon Vilalta, architecture, design, architecture prize, architecture award, Hisao Suzuki, Row House

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Via Dezeen and The Guardian

Images by Javier Lorenzo Domínguez and Hisao Suzuki via Pritzker Architecture Prize