It’s a golden year for 87-year-old Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes de Rocha, who has just been awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects’ 2017 Royal Gold Medal. This honor, which went to the late Zaha Hadid last year, is Mendes da Rocha’s third major win of the year, after receiving the Praemium Imperiale prize and Venice Architecture Biennale Golden Lion lifetime achievement award earlier this year.
Mendes da Rocha, the 2006 recipient of architecture’s top honor, the Pritzker Prize, made his name with with an unapologetic style of Brazilian brutalism that melded hulking raw concrete with glass and dramatic open spaces. He worked almost entirely in Brazil, with major works like the São Paulo Athletic Club, Brazilian Sculpture Museum, and São Paulo’s FIESP Cultural Center one by one giving Sao Paulo a modern makeover.
In the citation for the award, British architect John McAsian writes:
"In the increasingly closely bound worlds of architecture, consumerism and corporatism, the resonance of that remark has increased through time. Paulo Mendes da Rocha's particular genius may have originated in the mid-1950s, but he unquestionably remains an architect – and specifically not a "starchitect" – for our own times. This is surely the essential mark of his greatness."
This praise for Mendes da Rocha’s timeless appeal echoes a statement from 2016 Pritzker winner Alejandro Aravena, who presented him with the Biennale Golden Lion award:
"Many decades after being built, each of his projects have resisted the test of time, both stylistically and physically. This astonishing consistency may be the consequence of his ideological integrity and his structural genius."
Below, take a look at a few of Mendes da Rocha’s essential works, starting with the São Paulo AthletIc Club (1957), the project that put him on the map.