Saturday marked architecture’s biggest night out: the formal presentation of the 2017 Pritzker Architecture Prize. This year, the ceremony was held in Tokyo and honored the Spanish firm RCR Arquitectes.

The starchitect-studded event at the Akasaka Palace included past Pritzker laureates Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, Shigeru Ban, Ryue Nishizawa, Kazuyo Sejima, Wang Shu, Fumihiko Maki, Thom Mayne, and Richard Rogers. Also in attendance were Japanese dignitaries including Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko as well as Prince and Princess Akishino.

But the real stars of the night were RCR partners Carme Pigem, Rafael Aranda, and Ramon Vilalta. The three became friends while studying at the Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura del Vallès outside Barcelona and started a firm together in 1988. But rather than expand their practice in a major city like Barcelona, they opted to return to their roots and set up shop in their hometown of Olot, Spain—where they have been practicing for nearly 30 years. “The best decision of our lives has been to share architecture together,” said Pigem, speaking on behalf of the trio at the ceremony. “The second-best decision was to do this from our home town, Olot.”

Though the three architects practice principally in their native Catalonia, they have gained a cultish global following for their sensitive yet unexpected use of context and materials. Their El Petit Comte Kindergarten in Besalú, Spain (2010), for example, features a screen of colorful spinning columns so the children can play with the facade, while an airy party pavilion they designed Les Cols restaurant in Olot (2002) is constructed of transparent sheets. “For us, architecture is the art of materializing dreams,” Pigem told the audience Saturday. 

RCR is the first group of three to receive the Prize in its 38-year history, sharing the $100,000 prize. Each architect received a bronze medallion inspired by the Beaux-Arts designs of Louis Sullivan.

“Architecture is like music, but less ephemeral. It is like poetry, but more prosaic,” said Pigem. “All this is because we want to feel and make others feel.”