The artistry of Ricardo Bofill’s romantic architecture showcased in new book

The artistry of Ricardo Bofill’s romantic architecture showcased in new book

A new book titled Ricardo Bofill: Visions of Architecture published by Gestalten highlights in technicolour the Spanish architect’s greatest hits

For many people, the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill is best known for two things; the expansive neoclassic housing estate, Les Espaces d’Abraxas, at the new town of Marne-la-Vallée, east of Paris, and La Fábrica, the monumental former concrete factory in Barcelona that is home to the Bofill family and the Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura. They represent the two sides of Bofill’s 56-year career, united by a common interest in gravitas and scale, memory and patina, but starkly different in their critical reception and everyday use.

Ricardo Bofill: Visions of Architecture is a typically grandiose presentation of the studio’s greatest hits. ‘Visions’ is the right word, for perhaps more than any other architect of his generation, Bofill believes in the power of composition. As evidenced by the impressive photography throughout, each and every view is a carefully arranged tableau of form and colour; the architect’s vision is total.

Ricardo Bofill architecture
 La Fábrica, an abandoned concrete factory on the outskirts of Barcelona became a career-defining manifesto for Bofill and a home for his studio and family. Photography: Gregori Civera

The essays that preface the book give some clue as to the lofty ideals floating around the Taller de Arquitectura: ‘Towards a Manifesto of Freedom,’ ‘The Last Dreamers of Modernity,’ ‘Dreams and Manifestos: An Architectural Vision’. And it’s true that the works within offer up a rosy utopia of sharp-edged forms and crisply delineated shadows, of bold Mediterranean colours, verdant balconies and sun-drenched terraces.

Ricardo Bofill’s talents lie in composition and the creation of memory

Bofill is a romantic, and his work channels the mystic geometry of Giorgio de Chirico, the bright palette of Luis Barragán and the carefully controlled perspectives of Piranesi. Ultimately, however, the artist at work is Bofill himself.

Ricardo Bofill Gestalten book

A double page spread from the book published by Gestalten.

The warmth and complexity of the studio’s 1960s-era Barcelona apartments have a credible claim to being the true heirs to the exuberance of the original Modernista buildings. However, there’s something more prescriptive and confining about the work that followed in the 1970s and 80s, especially the over-scaled housing blocks that tend to crush human scale beneath their inflated classical detailing. The use of space is also suspect – masses for him and his family, but tiny apartments for everyone else not fortunate enough to live in the penthouse level or acquire a disused cement factory.

Admittedly the studio places much more emphasis on communal space, with courtyards and terraces sprawling over many levels to better serve up those delectable views. It’s an approach that works far better in sunny Barcelona than wind-swept Parisian suburbs.

Ricardo Bofill landscape
Ruins were inspirational to Bofill in his conception of what La Fábrica would become over time. Photography: Kristina Avdeeva

Bofill will be 80 this year and recent works from the Taller have sailed ever closer to the ubiquitous high-tech that defines almost every modern airport, HQ or stadium. Even in Bofill’s talented hands, glass and steel can’t acquire the gravitas he gives to render, stone and concrete.

In particular, the strong vernacular influences – classical, Moorish, and Mediterranean – that permeate Bofill’s best known buildings struggle to find traction in these corporate monoliths. There is flexibility and variety here, to be sure, but ultimately Ricardo Bofill’s talents lie in composition and the creation of memory, two elements that are well portrayed in this handsome volume. §

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