Kevin Roche, an innovative Irish-born American architect whose 51 major building projects have been said to be "quietly spectacular," yesterday became the fourth recipient of the annual Pritzker Prize for Architecture.

After receiving the award at the Whitney Museum in New York Roche announced that he will donate his $100,000 prize to Yale University to help endow a professorship in architecture honoring the late Eero Saarinen, with whom he worked for a decade before starting his own firm in 1961.

The seven-member Pritzker jury cited Roche for a "formidable body of work that sometimes intersects fashion, sometimes lags fashion and more often makes fashion."

Among Roche's more notable buildings (designed with his partner, engineer John Dinkeloo, who died last year) are the Ford Foundation headquarters, the United Nations Plaza hotel and office building and several additions to the Metropolitan Museum in New York; the Oakland Museum in California, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in Colorado and the Knights of Columbus headquarters in New Haven, Conn.

Roche, 60, was born in Dublin. He trained in architecture in Ireland and practiced for three years in England before coming to the United States in 1948 to work with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the great modernist, in Chicago. After a brief period with Mies he joined Saarinen's firm in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Roche participated in the design of several of Saarinen's best-known structures, including Dulles Airport. Roche himself has no buildings in the Washington area, although in 1966 he did design a steel-and-glass structure for a national aquarium that was never built.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize was established in 1979 to fill a vacuum in the annual Nobel Prize process, which does not recognize architecture. It was named after the Pritzker family of Chicago, who set up the Hyatt Foundation to fund and administer the prize. The family interests include publishing, real estate, electronics, timber, mining and the Hyatt Hotel chain. The previous recipients are Philip Johnson of the United States, Luis Barragan of Mexico and James Stirling of England.

In addition to the tax-free cash prize, the winners receive a small Henry Moore sculpture specially commissioned to commemorate the award. Roche will receive his sculpture in a formal ceremony on May 19 in Louis Sullivan's Stock Exchange Room, which has been preserved as part of the collection of the Chicago Art Institute. J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art and one of the Pritzker jurors, will deliver an address there.

The other jurors are Lord Clark of Saltwood (art historian Kenneth Clark); Japanese architect Arata Isozaki; Philip Johnson; J. Irwin Miller, who commissioned many superb contemporary buildings in Columbus, Ind.; Cesar Pelli, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, and Thomas J. Watson Jr., chairman emeritus of IBM. The jury received 485 nominations from 60 countries this year and selected Roche from among nine finalists.