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Rafael Moneo: 1937—: Architect - Won Coveted Award And Cathedral Commission

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There were other notable commissions for Moneo in Spain during the 1980s and 1990s. He won coveted jobs for the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid and a new Olympic stadium in Barcelona for its hosting of the 1992 Summer Games. He also completed a new terminal for Seville's airport, and the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation, a small museum on the island of Mallorca. His style found acceptance in less Mediterranean climes as well: he designed a hotel/office complex for the historic Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, and an entirely new building for Stockholm's Moderna Museet, the city's premier collection of modern art.

Such works put Moneo on the short list for the prestigious Pritzker Prize, created by the family of the Hyatt Hotels fortune to address the lack of an architecture category in the Nobel Prize. He won it in 1996, and Moneo's ceremony in California coincided with the announcement that same week that he had beat out several other top architects for what would be only his second building in the United States to date: the Los Angeles cathedral. The original church had been damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and the leader of Los Angeles' Catholic community, Roger Cardinal Mahony, drummed up support as well as $163 million to build a new one. It was a project fraught with controversy from the start over the site itself and cost overruns, but heralded by architecture critics and ordinary Los Angelenos alike upon its completion in 2002.

Moneo's Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was significant just for the fact that it was a relatively stately, religious-themed building in the center of a major American city—it was said to be the first such structure to go up on such an urban site in more than half a century. It was modernist in flavor, but blended historical elements deftly: Moneo had tons of sand delivered from Spain to mix into the concrete, which gave the exterior a warm, topaz color reminiscent of the first Roman Catholic missions in California. Impressive bronze doors created by artist Robert Graham brought worshippers inside—but into the wrong end, near the altar. A processional walk then wound visitors through. Of the interior, wrote Goldberger in the New Yorker, "Moneo has made a sumptuous modern space, angled and asymmetrical but calming. It is the same adobe color as the exterior, and there is soft, even light from huge alabaster windows. Crisply modern rooms with no right angles are rarely this serene." The alabaster windows were five-eighths of an inch thick, and the critic for Los Angeles Magazine commented favorably upon them as well. "As the sun moves east to west, the veined pigments in the stone change hues, from green and ocher to russet and gold, the way a sinking sun transforms pillars of sandstone in a red rock canyon," Goldin remarked. The church, in downtown Los Angeles, serves a largely Hispanic congregation, and seats 2,600. Outside, a large plaza can hold 5,000 visitors. "I wanted both a public space and something else: what it is that people seek when they go to church," Goldin quoted Moneo as saying in Los Angeles Magazine.

In 2003, the Royal Institute of British Architects awarded Moneo its Gold Medal, another of his profession's top honors. Moneo still maintains his Madrid office. His wife runs a furniture design firm in the city. His eldest daughter, Belén, is also an architect.



Newsmakers 1996, Gale, 1996.


Architecture, October 1999, p. 110.

Evening Standard (London, England), February 14, 2003, p. 31.

Los Angeles Magazine, October 2002, p. 144.

Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1996, p. 2.

New Yorker, September 23, 2002.

Progressive Architecture, June 1986, p. 73.

Time, September 2, 2002, p. 64.

—Carol Brennan

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