Rafael Moneo, who has designed the project for the future extension of the Prado Museum in Madrid, is the best-known figure in contemporary Spanish architecture.
He was born José Rafael Moneo in 1937 in Tudela, in the northern Spanish region of Navarra. After graduating from the Madrid School of Architecture in 1961, he worked under the Danish architect Jorn Utzon for two years. He opened his own studio in Madrid in 1965.
Moneo carried out the striking redesign of the Atocha Station in Madrid, completely transforming the tumbledown, obsolete train station into a Madrid landmark. Not far from this work stands the Villahermosa Palace, which Moneo converted to house the Thyssen Bornemisza art collection. Both these buildings opened in 1992.
Moneo's best known work to date is the National Museum of Roman Art in the town of Mérida, western Spain, completed in 1984. Faced with simple, unrendered red brick, it brilliantly complements and enhances the museum's displays of Roman mosaics, statuery and artifacts. It centers around a cathedral-like main exhibition hall, supported by arches the same size as Mérida's Trajan Arch, with three floors of open-ended display galleries along one side. Underneath the building is a Roman necropolis, which was discovered by chance when initial construction work was being carried out on the museum in 1981. The necropolis was incorporated into the building, in a purposely designed vault. The museum is connected to Mérida's Roman sites, the best preserved in Spain, by an underground passageway.
Another signature Moneo building is the Kursaal, a concert hall and convention center which opened in 1999 at the mouth of the Urumea river in the Basque city of San Sebastian. The building won the the Mies van der Rohe Prize, Europe's top architecture award, in 2001.
The Prado project involves joining the existing neo-classical building with two nearby historical buildings, the cloister of the San Jerónimo church and a 17th-century palace, by buried passageways, and envisions a 400-seat underground auditorium. The Prado has outgrown its present space, with only a fraction of its collection being exhibited at any one time. Completion of the project is scheduled for October, 2003.
Moneo's works outside Spain include the Davis Art Museum in Wellesley College (Massachusetts), the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art and Architecture.
In 1996 Rafael Moneo received the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
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