Tag Archives: RICARDO BOFILL

#147: TRIBUTE: RICARDO BOFILL (1939-2022) AND THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE FANTASTICAL

January 28, 2022

La Mazanera, Calpe, Alicante, Spain (photo from ricarobofill.com)

A titan amongst us architects has left this world: Ricardo Bofill. In the zeitgeist of art, design, and individualism, it feels as if Atlas finally shrugged.

In 1986 New York City (here and here) I, a young architect bravely stomping the granite cobblestones of SoHo streets, came across one of those suspicious card tables selling random artifacts. The seller and his temporary setting, appearing ready to pack up and run in an instant, had me wonder if his goods were stolen, fake, or both.

Les Espaces D’Abraxas, Marne-la-Valle, France (photo by Ricardo Bofill)

A large coffee table book, 12 inches square and one-inch thick, stood out from the scatter of tarnished jewelry, etched dishware, and stacks of art books, old postcard, and dog-leafed magazines. My eye caught, Ricardo Bofill: Taller De Arquitectura, published by the then-giant Rizzoli. I did not know this architect, yet I was drawn to the cover image of a fantastical project (pictured above). I negotiated with the seller a price that fit the few crumpled dollars I had in my big boy pants.

Walden 7, Sant Just Desvern, Barcelona, Spain (photo by Denis Esakov)

Back at my third-floor, walk-up, Chelsea studio, I devoured the architecture of Barcelona-born Ricardo Bofill—ambitious, utopian, revolutionary. Even controversial. Sometimes called dystopic. His global fame rose in the 70s and 80s with housing designs in France, several blocks large for neighborhoods like Marne-la-Valle. But much of his visionary creations in Spain preceded this recognition, and such earlier work established Bofill as an imaginary and puzzling thinker, akin to countryman, Antoni Gaudi.

El Parque de La Marca Hispanica, Le Perthus, Franco-Spanish border (photo by Ricardo Bofill)

His company name, Taller de Arquitectura, literally meant “architecture workshop.” This collaborative enclave of talent explored works of fantasy, concrete classicism, hyper Post-Modernism, organic forms, unprecedented sculptural forms and colors, and prefab concrete system construction—and did so beyond Spain and France, contributing to the urban fabric of the United States, Russia, India, Africa, and China.

Les Arcades du Lac, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France (photo by Gregori Civera)

Much like “The Factory,” a culture and workplace of Andy Warhol’s making, Taller de Arquitectura was a cross disciplinary atelier comprising skills beyond architects, interior designers, and contractors, to include psychiatrists, philosophers, mathematicians, and poets. Akin to the makeup of his personnel, Bofill’s influences were eclectic: Wright, Barragan, Kahn, Aalto, Archigram, Japanese Metabolists, as well as artists like de Chirico, Escher, and Magritte. These lists of design references, geography, various philosophies, alongside his 1,000 completed projects indicate a man beyond measure.

Interior of Walden 7, Sant Just Desvern, Barcelona, Spain (photo by Ricardo Bofill)

Bofill’s influence spanned across pop culture, films, TV shows, and video games, as his work is seen in movies such as The Hunger Games and in TV like Westworld and the recent Korean hit, Squid Game. In 1975, the President of France, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, labeled Bofill, “the greatest architect in the world,” later embellishing, “the greatest architect since Michelangelo.”

The Sanctuary of Meritxell, Andorra (photo by Ricardo Bofill)

Few architects have established themselves as an artist with such heroic and audacious ideas—drawings that leap out from the pages of Bofill’s sketchbook into the context of major cities as iconic and colossal built work. His courage and creativity will be missed. Like his 30-silo cement factory turned headquarters and home, Ricard Bofill saw the world differently, shaped it to his will, and left monuments scattered around the globe for the rest of us to be humbled.

The adaptive reuse of an abandoned, turn-of-the-century, cement factory. La Fabrica, Sant Just Desvern, Barcelona, Spain
(photo from us.gestalten.com)

#114: SIX ICONOCLASTS: MARCHING TO THEIR OWN DRUM

February 28, 2020

The Factory, Catalonia, Spain, by Ricardo Bofill (photo from thisiscolossal.com)

There are the Usual Suspects, and we all know who they are. Featured on our magazine covers, these architects take home the big-name awards, are invited to international competitions, and cash in on their prestigious commissions. Then there are those creative minds that march to their own drum, exploring ideas that resound privately in their head. Rarely in the zeitgeist of the mainstream, these architects flourish in bizarre ways and have tremendous influence.

Pavilion for Japanese Art, LACMA, Los Angeles, California, by Bruce Goff (photo from lacmaonfire.blogspot.com)

From Oklahoma to France, from California to Spain, from Alabama to New Mexico, these six artists did and do not follow the status quo. Instead, they sought solutions of ingenious personal expression— sometimes even unsettling forms and imagery.

left: Gryder House, Ocean Springs, Mississippi; right: Struckus House, Los Angeles, California, both by Bruce Goff (photos by Elena Dorfman)

BRUCE GOFF (1904 to 1983)
As I often enjoy doing with my design work, Goff too finds inspiration in music as well. He leans on Claude Debussy and Balinese music. He also happens to like seashells. Eclectic and unconventional, Goff’s work was sublimely organic—starkly original with never-before-seen forms and unusual materials. Regardless, a world-class institution like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art took a huge risk and scored big with hiring Goff.

Les Arcades et Les Temples du Lac, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, by Ricard Bofill (photo by Gregori Civera)
Kafka Castle, Sant Pere De Ribes, Spain, by Ricard Bofill (photo by Ricard Bofill)

RICARDO BOFILL (still in practice)
Bofill’s early works represented some of the most interesting explorations in Post-Modernism. With facile classical skills, this artist added fantasy and twisted plays of scale. For Bofill’s dystopia, see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Additional projects are other-worldly explorations into geometry and mind-bending repetition. His reconstruction of an abandoned cement factory transforms dilapidated structures into his personal residence and park, as well as offices for his architecture company (first image).

Lucy Carpet House, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo from livingcircular.veolia.com)
Sheats Goldstein House, Los Angeles, California, by John Lautner (photo from archdaily.com)

JOHN LAUTNER (1911 to 1994)
This Southern California architect captured the sunny optimism of the region. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner similarly stretched the rules of structural engineering as well as spatial relationships. He pioneered new possibilities with poured-in-place, steel reinforced concrete. Lautner was a Mid-Century visionary of brave new worlds.

Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo by hotellacasadelsol.com)
Sagrada Familia Church, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo by Getty Images, Tanatat Ponghibool)

ANTONI GAUDI (1852 to 1926)
When I visited Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, it was only then that I realized that an architect can indeed build his fanciful visions that seem to appear from a hallucinatory fugue. Like a jazz musician, Gaudi improvises, experimenting with Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, taking engineering risks and aesthetic chances. 140 years later, the world is still dedicated to completing Gaudi’s design of the Sagrada Familia Church, an ambitious vision that was conceived before we even had the technology to execute the design.

Lucy Carpet House, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo from livingcircular.veolia.com)
Community Center, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo by Johann Strey)

SAMUEL MOCKBEE (1944 to 2001)
Look closely at the Lucy Carpet House. By its name, yes: Those are carpet tiles stacked up to make part of the exterior skin. The design used 72,000 worn carpet tiles held in compression by wood beams on top. And the smell, you might ask? The tiles were stored for seven years to prevent off-gassing. The multi-faceted red structure has a bedroom on top of a tornado shelter. Inventive, novel and philanthropic, Mockbee and his Rural Studio often worked with rural, disadvantaged communities.

Pierre Cardin’s Bubble House, Cote d’Azur, France, by Bart Prince (photo from odditycentral.com)

BART PRINCE (still in practice)
Call it weird—rebellious too. Some would argue that Prince’s work was ugly or better yet grotesque. A colleague of Bruce Goff, Prince’s work was unprecedented and imaginative, whether you saw courageous splendor or awkward shapes. His architecture is a collision of myths, dreams and nightmares, laced with raw materials straight from the shelves of your local hardware store.

Fu Residence, Rio Rancho, New Mexico, by Bart Prince (photo from Robert Peck)

Ayn Rand promoted the Roark-ian ideal through her Objectivist view that “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Does this apply to my six iconoclastic architects above? Let’s just say that Individualism has it merits, as these architects value self-reliance in the creative process–as they cherish their artistic freedom

#71: THE NOISE OF ARCHITECTURE

September 22, 2017

(photo from jimjenningsarchitecture.com)

I am not referring to the acoustic engineering of a concert hall or the aural quality of a restaurant. Rather, all works of architecture have a certain artistic volume level, from blank mute to in-your-face loud. The visual and experiential clamor of a building can reverberate with a subtle hum, or brash feedback and distortion.

Here I list fifteen projects that represent the dynamic range of architecture’s capacity to blare, starting with silence and increasing to an uproar.

1. If you are wondering where the architecture is, that is exactly the point. The Tidal Pools de Leca da Palmeira intentionally blur the lines between nature and manmade. In so doing, Alvaro Siza (here and here) created a quiet structure for Porto, Portugal.

(photo from mimoa.eu)
(photo from uncubemagazine.com)

2. Present though voiceless, Jim Jennings’ Art Pool + Pavilion in Calistoga, California, provides the visitor nothing to relate to. The project is powerfully hush and abstract. (Black and white image above.)

3. Looking like not much more than a barn, rock star architect, Peter Zumthor, delivers a house/office, offering only a single window for scale. Here in Hadlerstein, Switzerland, Zumthor barely speaks and shows off his capacity for restraint.

4. The Benesse House in the Kagawa District of Japan does not need to yell to get your attention. Practicing a meditative Zen-like harmony, Tadao Ando’s (here and here) building is at noiseless peace.

(photo by Tadao Ando)

5. What appears to be a typical sacred building starts at first through its name, the “Cardboard Cathedral.” Then it hits you: Shigeru Ban literally used cardboard tubes for this New Zealand project.

(photo by Stephen Goodenough)

6. Like a child’s toy, a cylinder on top of a box comprises the Stockholm Public Library in Sweden. But for Gunnar Asplund, this is no simple toy. The sheer scale and volume makes the building’s presence loud and clear.

(photo from architectsjournal.co.uk)

7. Wang Shu’s China Academy of Art seems to be contextual with the vernacular of Hangzhou, China. But it is the architect’s details and use of materials in innovative ways that provide this project a slight degree of commotion.

(photo from npr.org)

8. For his Experimental House in Muuratsalo, Finland, Alvar Aalto generated an outcry with his brick patterns.

(photo from Architizer.com)

9. Rafael Moneo (here and here) used a cylinder, as did Asplund above. But for Moneo’s Atocha Train Station in Madrid, the crisp brick pillars form a cylinder in an untraditional way. And they resound with a majestic boom.

(photo from europaenfotos.com)

10. For a housing project cutely entitled “Xanadu,” Taller de Arquitectura (here and here) created something that demands more attention that your generic hillside apartment. In La Manzanera Alicante, Spain, Xanadu may have some items that appear to be normal, like clay tile, gable roofs, painted stucco and residential scale windows—but upon a second look, the overall composition is a hullabaloo.

(photo by Ricardo Bofill)

11. The green, glazed terra cotta, exterior tiles on this addition possesses a visual bark, especially in counterpoint to the traditional original building. In Sarasota, Florida, Macado Silvetti clearly wanted the Center for Asian Art to create a racket when having the new holler to the old.

(photo from machado-silvetti.com)

12. I typical attribute the work of Antonio Gaudi to jazz. His fantastical improvised vision of the world, seen here at Casa Batlo in Barcelona, breaks the rules of composition and color, resulting in an intuitive, lyrical work.

(photo from apetcher.wordpress.com)

13. The historic collaboration between Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, and Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron (here and here) offered up the 2008 Olympics’ Chinese National Stadium, also known as the famous “Bird’s Nest”. This artistic structure in Beijing blasted onto the world stage with its surreal knitting of massive steel members, alongside the building’s enormous presence.

(photo from hoesthetics.net)

14. This image of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas has not been distorted. Frank Gehry (here, here, herehere and here) designed an interior that has quite an uproar—one that questions if such noise is good for the purpose of this facility, the healthiness of one’s brain.

(photo from newsroom.clevelandclinic.org)

15. Similar to the Center for Asian Art, above, this Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto represents a dialogue between old and new. But here, Studio Libeskind’s (LINK best friends) new addition screams and cries for attention. The juxtaposition fascinates, but does architecture need to bellow like this?

#59: THE BUSINESS WORLD WANTS TO THINK LIKE DESIGNERS

March 31, 2017

Design Thinking artwork (photo from readytomanage.com)

When The New York Times published an article about seeking “Fulfillment,” the headline declared, “Think Like a Designer.”

“Design Thinking” (“DT”) is impacting universities, companies and entrepreneurs. Thought leaders have applied the mindset of an architect to address challenges in our world.

Poon Design’s previous studio, Beverly Hills (photo by Anthony Poon)
Poon Design’s previous architecture studio, Beverly Hills (photo by Anthony Poon)
A lot of financial, busy-ness, busi-ness, business, mumble-jumble (photo by Anthony Poon)
A lot of financial, busy-ness, busi-ness, business, mumble-jumble (photo by Anthony Poon)

The difference in mindset between an architect and business person can be quite remarkable. For example, I might sketch ideas quickly into a journal—improvise, test, reject, and try again. In contrast, a finance person might spend two weeks authoring a highly-detailed, 30-page spreadsheet. Drowning in overwrought details, he forces unwanted answers.

To explore DT further, I interviewed good friend Christine Fang, Associate Director for the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, at Virginia Tech. Decades ago at UC Berkeley, I studied architecture and music, while Chris studied finance and accounting. Young in our fields in New York City, I worked at the offices of Robert A.M. Stern, while she at Morgan Stanley.

Book cover of Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur
Book cover of Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur

Anthony: How did all this DT begin?

Christine: Many educators agree that DT is linked to the d.school at Stanford, influencing disciplines such as business and entrepreneurship. Through examining how designers approached projects, tools were developed for the ideation of business ideas. One tool mixing DT and entrepreneurship is the Business Model Canvas (“BMC”). BMC looked more like an architect’s building blocks, rather than a 30-page business plan. I remember when I recently called you about a reference to an architect in the BMC business book, Christopher Alexander, whom you studied at Berkeley.

Anthony: How does DT help in communication and interaction? Does mindfulness have a role?

Christine: As a business student 25 years ago, I wasn’t sure how future communication in society would work with such deep silos of specialization, like business school vs. architecture school. Surely business people and architects would have to interact, but what happens if there is a basic inability to share and collaborate? There is even a recently published book by Gillian Tett on this topic, The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers.

With DT bridging at least two silos, you’ve now got designers crossing over into the field of business with a level of comfort, and vice versa. Underlying these crossovers is mindfulness. That is a whole other topic, but suffice it to say that when we approach each other with an authentic wish to understand one another, and not just continue to fortify silos for the sake of them, we can truly start to communicate and interact.

(photo by Jim Witkowski on Unsplash)

Anthony: How does the concept of “unit size,” as in a building block, relate to a finished project, both in architecture and entrepreneurship?

Christine: I used to envision that an artist like Diana Krall could potentially not have to think about business while creating music. Her artistic process would be only one segment at the beginning of a value chain. Next, an entrepreneur must think about producing content for customers, next is building a business concept that can thrive, and next is being part of a whole market with other players. In business terms, we call it being able to “scale.”

(photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels)

I refer to “unit size” being the cause of differences in communication. Clarifying whether our assessments refer to a business idea, an actual product, a venture, or a market (from smaller to bigger unit size) can lead to more accuracy. In mainstream terms, on Shark Tank, for example, the judging investors criticize the candidates who think only at the unit size of their product. The candidates should think about having an entire business venture worth investing in.

Think of businesses as being made up of conceptual building blocks. You start with a spark of an idea. You have to develop it into an offering like a product or service. Then you create an even bigger unit called a business. And finally, you build up the supporting activities around it to become a sustainable venture.

Anthony: So what happens when different disciplines discuss issues at different unit sizes?

Christine: When “design” is mentioned, there is already a communication gap. What are we designing exactly? The product (like the iPhone) vs. the whole business (like Apple)?

Harvard Business Review article, Design Thinking by Tim Brown
Harvard Business Review article, Design Thinking by Tim Brown

Anthony: What are the challenges in DT for businesses?

Christine: Like with any new concept where we stretch conventional definitions, we need to proceed with complete mindfulness. We need to know that there will be square pegs being put in round holes, that not everything about the approach will be perfect. People who too quickly adopt DT can be ill-advised, or even offend my design friends. There is a whole lineage that led to the design way of thinking, and it would be inappropriate for educators and business practitioners to treat a designer’s education and training as cliché. However, the benefits of applying Design Thinking to business certainly outweigh any short-term negative outcomes. We’re just at the beginning.

© Poon Design Inc.