Death of Ricardo Bofill, the architect who wanted to put people at the heart of space

“Star architect”, the Spaniard Ricardo Bofill, who died Friday at 82 years of complications linked to Covid-19, has signed hundreds of achievements around the world with the obsession of putting man at the center of space. He had studied partly in Geneva. “Architecture is the victory of man over the irrational”, he liked to say, carried by the obsession to create a different architectural “language” organizing space around man.

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Over the course of his career, Bofill joined the very exclusive club of “star architects” to which Norman Foster, Renzo Piano and Jean Nouvel belong. “The star system caught me in France in 1974. At that time, architects were beginning to be important, to have a preponderant role in society and that forged me a great reputation”, he affirmed in an interview published in May 2020 by the Spanish daily ABC.

Born on December 5, 1939 in Barcelona from a Catalan architect father and a Venetian mother, Ricardo Bofill Levi entered the Barcelona School of Architecture in 1957, from where he was expelled for anti-Franco activism, before continue his studies in Geneva. Back in his hometown, in a Spain still under the thumb of dictator Francisco Franco, he joined other young intellectuals (architects, engineers, writers, filmmakers, sociologists and philosophers) of a group called the “Divine Left. ”And in 1963 created his architectural studio, the“ Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura ”.

Urban utopias

This workshop, installed in an old cement factory on the outskirts of Barcelona and with branches in Paris, Montpellier, New York, Tokyo, Chicago or Beijing, has signed more than 1000 projects all over the world. We owe him in particular the Barcelona airport, the National Theater of Catalonia, the Palais des Congrès in Madrid and the Donnelley and Dearborn skyscrapers in Chicago.

In France, where he is particularly appreciated, Bofill has signed large social housing complexes, such as the Abraxas spaces in Noisy-le-Grand, in the suburbs of Paris, where several scenes of Brazil, cult anticipation film by Terry Gilliam (1985), or the Antigone district in Montpellier. His ambition: to create urban utopias “in a highly monumental classical language on a scale never seen before”, writes Douglas Murphy in the book Ricardo Bofill: Visions of Architecture.

But on the ground, degraded and criticized by some inhabitants, the Abraxas spaces were very nearly demolished. “To demolish them would be a lack of culture”, estimated Ricardo Bofill in an interview with the French daily. The world in 2014. While acknowledging having “failed to change the city”.

An archive of Journal de Genève, in 1993: Ricardo Bofill, grandiloquent quack in the tradition of Swedish architecture

Inspired by the Tuaregs as well as by Palladio

Received an honorary doctorate from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia last September, Bofill then underlined that “faced with the dormitory town model”, he had made “the bet of creating districts with mixed functions, but always defending the urban continuity, the street and the square ”as a place of social life, at a time when, in the United States in particular, city centers were disappearing to make way for cars and shopping centers.

Obsessed with the organization of space, Ricardo Bofill was inspired in particular by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio, the Renaissance or even the French architects of the 17th and 18th centuries François Mansart and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. But also Tuareg villages where this self-proclaimed “nomad” sought ideas at the start of his career.

“I think I can do two things: […] design cities […] and try to invent different architectural languages ​​and never repeat them, ”he underlined last June during a conference in Barcelona. A rejection of repetition which made him love Antonio Gaudí, Catalan like him, whom he described as “the greatest genius in history” who “never repeated two elements or forms”.

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