Spanish avant-garde architect Rafael Moneo, known for the use of light in his building designs to create diaphanous spaces, was named Wednesday as this year's recipient of the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts.

Moneo, who had been nominated for this prestigious prize on more than a dozen occasions, beat out 38 other hopefuls from 25 countries, including fellow finalists Japanese architect Toyo Ito and Estonian classical composer Arvo Part.

The jury headed by Jose Llado, a Spanish business leader and former Cabinet minister, hailed the universal quality of Moneo's work, saying it enriches urban spaces "with an architecture that is serene and meticulous."

It added that Moneo is an acclaimed master who combines aesthetics with functionality, "especially in the airy interiors that act as impeccable settings for great works of culture and the spirit."

A graduate of Madrid's Higher Technical School of Architecture, the 75-year-old Moneo has won the most prestigious awards in the field, including the Pritzker Architecture Prize - often referred to as the Nobel Prize in that discipline - in 1996 and the Mies van der Rohe Award, the EU prize for contemporary architecture, in 2001.

In Spain, he is known for expanding the Prado Museum and the Thyssen Museum in Madrid, remodeling the Atocha railway station in the Spanish capital and designing the Museum of Roman Art in Merida, the Kursaal concert hall and convention center in San Sebastian and the Barcelona Auditorium, among a long list of works.

He also converted Madrid's Villahermosa Palace to house the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection.

Moneo has had a distinguished academic career, having lectured at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne, Switzerland, and at the U.S. universities of Princeton and Harvard, where he was the dean of that prestigious Massachusetts-based institution's Graduate School of Design between 1985 and 1990.

"I've received a gift I wasn't expecting and it was a surprise," Moneo told Efe.

"When they called me, I thought it was because the jury wanted to resolve some doubt about another candidate. That was my first reaction," he said.

Moneo became the fifth architect to receive the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts after Britain's Norman Foster (2009), Spain's Santiago Calatrava (1999) and Francisco Javier Saenz de Oiza (1993) and Brazil's Oscar Niemeyer (1989).

Last year's prize went to Italian orchestra conductor Riccardo Muti, while other past winners include American film director Woody Allen, Spanish flamenco guitarist and composer Paco de Lucia and African-American operatic soprano Barbara Hendricks.

According to the Prince of Asturias Foundation's Web site, the arts award recognizes an individual or institution "whose work in cinematography, theater, dance, music, photography, painting, sculpture, architecture or any other form of artistic expression constitutes a significant contribution to mankind's culture heritage."

The arts honor is the first of eight Asturias prizes to be awarded this year, each accompanied by a 50,000-euro (roughly $64,673) cash prize.

The winners also receive a sculpture by Joan Miro that represents and symbolizes the awards, a diploma and an insignia bearing the foundation's coat of arms.

The prizes, which Spain's Crown Prince Felipe will hand out in October in the northwestern city of Oviedo's Campoamor Theater, are regarded as the Ibero-American world's equivalent of the Nobels.