Rafael Moneo Gets the Golden Lion

John Hill
28. april 2021
Portrait of Rafael Moneo by Germán Saiz, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

La Biennale di Venezia has announced that Spanish architect Rafael Moneo is recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, which he will be given on May 22, 2021, at the opening of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition.

Although Moneo, who won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1996, is best known as an architect, he is also an educator, critic and theoretician, as pointed out by the Biennale in today's announcement of the Golden Lion. Hashim Sarkis, curator of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition who nominated Moneo for the Golden Lion, highlights these roles in his words:

  • "As a practitioner, and through his broad array of buildings, like the Kursaal Auditorium, The Prado Museum, the Atocha Train Station, and the Los Angeles Cathedral, he has highlighted the ability of every architectural project to respond to contingencies of site and program while transcending them.
  • "As an educator, he has rigorously guided several generations of architects towards architecture as a vocation.
  • "As a scholar, he has combined his visual prowess and analytic rigors to help reinterpret some of the most canonical historic buildings with fresh eyes.
  • "As a critic of the contemporary scene, he has written on emerging phenomena and key projects and has established some of the most important dialogues on the present scene of architecture with colleagues from around the world."
Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium (1999) in Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain (Photo: Zarateman/Wikimedia Commons)

Moneo began teaching at architecture schools in Madrid and Barcelona in the 1970s, not long after he started his practice in Madrid. Since 1985 he has taught at Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he once served as Chair and is now Professor Emeritus. His critical and theoretical writings are widely published, most prominently in Theoretical Anxiety and Design Strategies in the Work of Eight Contemporary Architects, in which he analyzes buildings designed by Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron, and other contemporaries.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (2002) in Los Angeles (Photo: David Castor/Wikimedia Commons)

Notable buildings designed by Moneo, in addition to those listed above, include: the National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida, which was completed in 1986 and brought international attention to Moneo; the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation, built in Palma de Mallorca in 1992; the City Hall Extension in Murcia, completed in 1998; and the Northwest Corner Building in New York City, completed in 2010 and notably the last building on Columbia University's historic campus laid out by McKim, Mead & White. Fans of Moneo's architecture should search out Remarks on 21 Works, though the now eleven-year-old monograph points to the need for a more recent and exhaustive "Œuvre complète" on this amazing architect.

National Museum of Roman Art (1986) in Mérida, Spain (Photo: Ángel M. Felicísimo/Wikimedia Commons)

As part of the Venice Architecture Biennale opening on May 22, Sarkis has set up "a little exhibition" inside the Book Pavilion, the thirty-year-old building in the Giardini designed by James Stirling. It will feature "plastic models and emblematic pictures of the buildings realized by the Spanish architect, that can be seen as an answer to the question How will we live together?" — the question that is also the theme of the Biennale. On that Saturday, Moneo will be awarded the Gold Lion alongside the Special Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in memoriam to Lina Bo Bardi.

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