Dezeen Magazine

"Living legend" Paulo Mendes da Rocha to receive 2017 RIBA Royal Gold Medal

Breaking news: Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha has been named as the 2017 recipient of the Royal Gold Medal for architecture, after winning both the Praemium Imperiale prize and the Venice Architecture Biennale Golden Lion this year.

Described by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) as Brazil's most celebrated living architect, Mendes da Rocha, 87, will be presented with the medal in early 2017 in a formal ceremony.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha

He is known for a particular style of Brazilian brutalism and is considered largely responsible for the modernisation of Sao Paulo, but has built few significant structures outside of his home country – making his clean sweep of prizes even more unusual.

He also won the Pritzker Prize, architecture's equivalent of the Nobel, in 2006.

Museu Nacional dos Coches, Portugal's National Coach Museum in Lisbon, was completed by the Brazilian architect in 2015. Photograph by Armenio Teixeira

"Paulo Mendes da Rocha's work is highly unusual in comparison to the majority of the world's most celebrated architects," said RIBA president Jane Duncan. "He is an architect with an incredible international reputation, yet almost all his masterpieces are built exclusively in his home country."

"Revolutionary and transformative, Mendes da Rocha's work typifies the architecture of 1950s Brazil – raw, chunky and beautifully 'brutal' concrete," she added. "Paulo Mendes da Rocha is a world-class architect and a true living legend."

Paulo Mendes da Rocha's 1993 renovation of the Pinacoteca Estado, Sao Paulo's oldest fine arts museum. Photography by Nelson Kon

Awarded by the RIBA, the Royal Gold Medal is presented annually in recognition of a significant contribution to the profession.

The 2016 medal was presented to Zaha Hadid shortly before her unexpected death, making her the first woman ever to win the Royal Gold Medal in her own right.

Other recent recipients of the accolade include Peter Zumthor, Herman Hertzberger and David Chipperfield.

"After so many years of work, it is a great joy to receive this recognition from the Royal Institute of British Architects for the contribution my lifetime of work and experiments have given to the progress of architecture and society," said Mendes da Rocha.

The Brazilian Sculpture Museum MuBE – completed in 1998 – features huge slabs of raw concrete that cover outdoor spaces. Photograph by Nelson Kon

"I would like to send my warmest wishes to all those who share my passion, in particular British architects, and share this moment with all the architects and engineers that have collaborated on my projects," he added.

Born in 1928 in Vitória, Brazil, Mendes da Rocha began his career in São Paulo. He established his office in 1955 and completed one of his most important projects – the Athletic Club of São Paulo – two years later.

This was followed by a string of predominantly public buildings across Brazil, including the Estádio Serra Dourada in Goiás (1975) and the Saint Peter Chapel in São Paulo (1987). He renovated Sao Paulo's oldest fine arts museum, the Pinacoteca do Estado in 1993.

A view inside FIESP, the Sao Paolo cultural centre completed by Mendes da Rocha in 1997. Photograph by Nelson Kon

He is known for a particular style of Brazilian brutalism, combining the raw concrete and finishes typical of the style with huge sections of glazing, light wells and open walls.

"Many decades after being built, each of his projects have resisted the test of time, both stylistically and physically," said Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena and the board of directors at 2016 the Venice Architecture Biennale, which awarded Mendes da Rocha with the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.

"This astonishing consistency may be the consequence of his ideological integrity and his structural genius," they said.