“To build means to intervene in the environment, in the landscape, in which we live in, as much as to construct a building.”Rafael Moneo, On The Arbitrariness of Architecture

Rafael Moneo, born 9th May 1937 is a Spanish architect who is widely renowned for his timeless structures and his integration of historic features with contemporary ones. He is one of the most prominent architects having gained recognition all around the world. Rafael Moneo has been an active part of the architectural community in both professional and educational aspects. He is in opposition to the practice of short-lived architecture and has always emphasised the importance of creating long-standing structures. 

In his writings, he says, “Architecture belongs to the site. Architecture should be appropriate which means it should recognize in some way the attributes of the site. To understand what these attributes are, to hear how they manifest themselves, should be the architect’s first move when starting to think about a building.”

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Rafael Moneo_smoda.elpais.com

Education | Rafael Moneo

Rafael Moneo was born in Tudela, Spain. Moneo confesses in his Pritzker biography that architecture was not his inner calling. He leaned towards philosophy and literature. It was his father’s influence as an industrial designer that he decided to study architecture at the Madrid School of Architecture (Superior Technical School of Architecture of Madrid) from where he graduated in 1961. He then went to Denmark to work with Jørn Utzon’s practice for a two-year apprenticeship. Rafael Moneo met with Alvar Aalto in Helsinki before he returned to Spain in 1962. He did a two-year fellowship with the Spanish Academy in Rome, which he described as being “fundamental to my career”.


He started his practice in 1965 and started his teaching career at Superior Technical School of Architecture of Madrid (ETSAM), during which he also started publishing his articles. Rafael Moneo received his first project in 1965 for the Diestre Transformer Factory in Zaragoza, Spain. This project allowed Moneo to explore principles laid by his architectural inspirations. Allusions to nature, the mountains of Ebro Valley, can be seen in the facade of the building, a characteristic of Alvar Aalto’s style.

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Diestre Transformer Factory_hiddenarchitecture.net

His second structure, the Urumea Project was a collaboration with three other architects. They set forth a new proposal for the building that took into account the prime location of the site and delivered it justice. This building is an example of Moneo’s beliefs about the relationship between housing and the city. 

He founded his magazine Arquitectura Bis, where many of his writings were published. He then received commissions for various buildings in the coming years. From 1972 to 1976, he worked on the Bankinter Building in collaboration with Ramón Bescós. This project shied away from the practice of destroying existing structures to create new ones. It was created in coexistence with the pre-existing Palace of Marquis of Mudela. The building is of Brutalist architectural style, as seen from the precise design of the exterior facade. It pays homage to the existing architecture of the area by using similar bricks.

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Bankinter Building_archist.blogspot.com

From 1973 to 1981, Rafael Moneo was also involved in the design and construction of Logroño City Hall. Moneo was also invited to be a visiting faculty at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies and to teach at the Cooper Union School of Architecture. In the next few years, he would also be a visiting professor at the schools of architecture of both Princeton and Harvard Universities, as well as the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

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Logroño City Hall_rafaelmoneo.com

He became the Chairman of the School of Architecture in Madrid for five years, during which he worked on possibly one of the most famous of his projects, the National Museum of Roman Art. Built using Roman construction techniques, the building still has contemporary features in harmony with each other. This project earned him international recognition and is one of his most celebrated buildings. The Previsión Española Building at Seville would become his project as well. 

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In 1984, Moneo was named chairman of the architecture department of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, a position he held until 1990. He taught the course “On Contemporary Architecture and Design Theories in Architecture”. He travelled frequently during this period to Spain to work on the Atocha Railway Station project. Projects such as the San Pablo Airport Rafael Moneo; the remodelling of the Villahermosa Palace to house the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection; and the Diagonal Building in Barcelona, the latter being a collaboration with Manuel de Sola-Morales, brought him back to Spain.

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Bankinter Building_hicarquitectura.com

Among some more projects are the Hyatt Hotel and Mercedes Benz Offices on Potsdamer Platz, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Museo del Prado Extension, Madrid, Museum of the Roman Theatre of Cartagena, Aragonia Complex, Deusto University Library, the Mercer Hotel and the Merida City Hall.

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Achievements | Rafael Moneo

He is the first Spanish architect to have received the Pritzker Prize in 1996. In 2003, he was awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal and the National Spanish Architecture Prize in 2015. Some more awards and honours include the Gold Medal for Achievement in the Fine Arts by the Spanish Government (1992), the Gold Medal of the French Academy of Architecture, and the Gold Medal of the International Union of Architects (1996). Rafael Moneo is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, member of the Accademia di San Luca di Roma, member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, the Royal Institute of British Architects and since 2013, a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 


Rafael Moneo. Rafael Moneo. [online]. Available at: https://rafaelmoneo.com

Great Buildings. Rafael Moneo. [online]. Available at: http://www.greatbuildings.com/architects/Rafael_Moneo.html

Wikipedia. Rafael Moneo. [online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafael_Moneo

The Pritzker Architecture Prize. Rafael Moneo. [online]. Available at: https://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/1996

Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Rafael Moneo. [online]. Available at: https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/person/rafael-moneo/

Build Academy. 1.3 Rafael Moneo and the Architecture of Time (Contemporary Architecture MOOC). [Video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ee-LhYqJ-6I


Kanak Holani is a first year architecture student who can usually be found reading novels and trying her hand at various crafts. She is passionate about history, culture and climate and how it all ties in with architecture.