Remembering Ricardo Bofill (1939 – 2022)
Ricardo Bofill, the Spanish architect with a penchant for strong colors and bold shapes, died in Barcelona on January 14, 2022. A look back at his life and work
Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill has died aged 82. Perhaps the country’s most acclaimed and well-known contemporary architect, Bofill’s long career has seen him chart a distinctive personal path through the built environment, incorporating rich colors and abstract forms.
His work frequently hosted the physical or spiritual detritus of earlier movements, notably in his own home and studio, a sprawling converted cement factory just outside Barcelona, but he distanced himself from association with any style or approach. .
La Pirámide, 1976, a Mayan-style temple adjoining a highway on the border between Spain and France
Born in 1939, Bofill was immersed in the life and culture of Catalonia from an early age. His father Emilio was an architect and builder, albeit unregistered, with strong personal ties to Barcelona’s rich cultural scene. Emilio played a major role in the creation and early work of his son’s studio, which came to encompass not only architecture, but other disciplines such as poetry, economics and literary criticism.
Family home, Girona, 1973
Founded in 1963, the most successful achievements of Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura are in the field of housing. Two projects in particular, Walden 7 and La Muralla Roja (The Red Wall) stood out. Both have received renewed attention in our image-saturated digital world, with striking polychromatic forms that are never long off the modern cultural radar.
In 2021, the South Korean drama series squid game added another metatextual layer, with sets and environments that seem to directly reference the Escher-esque staircases and bright colors of The Red Wall housing in Calpe, Alicante. Built between 1968 and 1973, The Red Wall is timeless in its appearance, as are the stacked apartments in Block Walden 7, located next to the Taller de Arquitectura in Barcelona.
La Muralla Roja (The Red Wall), Calpe, Spain, 1973
Besides housing, other major projects include the National Theater of Catalonia in Barcelona, two terminals at Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport, the Shiseido headquarters in Tokyo, and projects in Chicago, Paris and Casablanca. Work continues on the campus of the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco, along with other projects, all overseen by Bofill’s sons, Ricardo Emilio and Pablo, who now run the 100-person office.
They represent the third generation of this remarkable creative family, which will continue to leave a substantial mark on the built environment. Under Bofill’s leadership, the Taller has designed more than 1,000 buildings in 40 countries.
Municipal Palace of Congresses of Madrid, 1992
You can read a Bofill building as if it were a work of art, a carefully studied layering of shapes and colors married to a love of light and space. Long before we all became obsessive curators of our personal environments, Bofill proposed architecture as something that served as a giant backdrop to our lives, the bigger and more epic, the better. It didn’t always work out, with his housing estate in Marne-la-Vallée in France, Les Espaces d’Abraxas, tipping over into a dark and impersonal neo-classicism.
When it all came together, his work was surprisingly distinct. Much of his work was captured in Gestalten’s 2019 monograph, Ricardo Bofill: visions of architecture, a sumptuous celebration of the work of the Taller de Arquitectura.
Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, Ben Guerir, Morocco, 2016-ongoing
Two years ago, we were proud to present Hamburg-based architectural photographer Sebastian Weiss’ series on the red wall. “It’s a place of absurd and surreal beauty,” the photographer said at the time, noting with foresight that it “sometimes appears like a film set or stage setting.”
Much like a stage, Bofill’s best works encouraged you to experience life as if it were a role, to appreciate the changing dynamics of the environment, brought to life by the play of light and shadow, of the wall and from the window. The city was his canvas, and the world is a little poorer for his passage. §