The shape-shifting furniture of Enric Miralles

The shape-shifting furniture of Enric Miralles

Fundació Enric Miralles with support from the American Hardwood Export Council pays tribute to the late Catalan architect’s furniture work, with an exhibition demonstrating his dynamic approach to design (27 May – 29 August 2021)

Fundació Enric Miralles celebrates the late Catalan architect with an exhibition of ingenious furniture designs curated by architects Benedetta Tagliabue and Joan Roig i Duran. ‘Miralles. Perpetuum Mobile’ reveals the lesser-known side of Enric Miralles, featuring his production as a furniture designer, which is collected into an exhibition for the first time.

A portrait of the late architect Enric Miralles
Enric Miralles

’I feel Enric is very present. And I still have a kind of conversation with him. Maybe I think he’s participating in what we are doing and he already knows,’ said architect Benedetta Tagliabue, Miralles’ long-term partner, who co-designed many of the pieces and who has since his death been working to preserve his legacy through the Fundació Enric Miralles. The foundation’s role, Tagliabue explained, is to connect Miralles’ approach and thinking with a new generation of architects, designers and other creatives. ‘The idea is to make the conversation go on. Enric was always very experimental, he had a mind that was never conventional. If you posed a problem to Enric he would always answer back with a surprising thing. He was special and that is still coming out from the documents you find in his archives.’

Enric Miralles on show at Disseny Hub

Inestable by Enric Miralles, photographed at the late architect’s house in Barcelona
The original ‘Inestable’ in iroko wood, photographed at Miralles’ and Tagliabue’s home in Barcelona

The exhibition at Barcelona’s Disseny Hub comprises models of furniture and objects mainly created by the architect for his own home, reproduced in collaboration with AHEC, with a selection of sustainable American hardwoods donated by AE Maderas. On display are also a series of drawings and photographic collages, offering further insight into Miralles’ creative universe.

Miralles’ furniture design was defined by dynamism: this is in no way a series of static furniture pieces. The collection on display includes shape-shifting tables whose structure conceals drawers and cabinets, or whose top lifts to become something else. Wooden joinery and hinges are used technically and imaginatively to extend a piece’s scope: the organic forms of the ‘Lelukaappi’ shelving unit can extend to create a landscape or contract to become a cozy refuge. The ‘Troncs’ tables feature a simple mechanism that allows the tables to change in height or be collapsed completely, while the ‘Estudi’ desk was a collaborative piece designed by Miralles and Tagliabue for their home office: the large table allowed the architects to sit and work facing each other, and featured practical details such as a slot for cables and a series of drawers on wheels.

A detail of the ‘Estudi’ desk

Even when more traditional in its functionality, Miralles’ furniture doesn’t represent stillness: sinuous lines and playful constructions merge the architect’s utilitarian approach with his intuitive creative interpretation of traditional furniture. Among the pieces on display is the ‘Mistery’ table, whose drawing and manufacturing instructions were found inside an old notebook and never realised before.

The architect’s last home in Barcelona was in an old warehouse turned into an open, versatile space: within, Miralles imagined a ‘house in motion’ and his flexible furniture designs followed this principle. Wanting a space where furniture did not have an established function or position, he experimented with designing his own in collaboration with local carpenters. ‘We said that this was our home and it’s not going to be published,’ said Tagliabue. ‘You have fewer constraints when you’re doing something for yourself. You’re really serving yourself as a client.’

The Mistery table by Enric Miralles, whose drawing was found by Benedetta Tagliabue in a notebook and reproduced in American maple
The ‘Mistery’ table in American maple. A drawing table that can be lengthened or shortened thanks to a zigzag system, working as a workspace or 4 meter long dining table for up to 16 guests

The exhibition includes 20 pieces comprising wooden furniture and lighting, including pieces inspired by the work of Alvar Aalto, as well as designs for the Scottish Parliament project and the headquarters of the Círculo de Lectores in Madrid. Tagliabue and Roig i Duran worked with AHEC to recreate 9 of the furniture pieces, which were crafted in four underused American hardwood species including red oak, maple, cherry and tulipwood.

The exhibition is designed to recreate the private house of Miralles and Tagliabue, with family pictures giving a glimpse into the architects’ home. In addition, AHEC has created a video demonstrating the meticulous process of recreating each piece of furniture to bring Miralles’ legacy back to life. §

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