Mendes da Rocha, 78, is the second Brazilian architect to take the award. Oscar Niemeyer was honoured in 1988.
Da Rocha's signature style, featuring Modernist concrete slabs mounted on giant piers above outdoor plazas, has, until recently, been confined to Latin America. The semi-subterranean Brazilian Sculpture Museum and Forma Furniture Showroom, both in São Paulo, are considered his finest work.
However, a recent project win at the University of Vigo, in north-west Spain, is set to elevate his international status. The brief is to integrate a series of disparate buildings - a library, engineering departments, student residences and administration offices - designed by several different Spanish architects into a single campus.
Annoucing the victory, the Pritzker jury said yesterday: 'Mendes da Rocha has shown a deep understanding of space and scale through the great variety of buildings he has designed.
'While few of his buildings were realised outside of Brazil, the lessons to be learned from his work, both as a practising architect and a teacher, are universal.'
The prize will be presented on 30 May in Istanbul, Turkey.