Kate Wagner, Remembering Ricardo Bofill, Architect of Otherworldly Social Housing, Curbed, 28 Jnuary 2022
His buildings fill dystopic films, but function more like colorful utopias.
For many people, their introduction to the work of Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill comes from the image of his grand social housing project, the monumental and colonnaded Espaces d’Abraxas, standing in as the dystopian headquarters in Brazil and The Hunger Games. For others, the pastel pink walls of La Muralla Roja serve as a frequent Instagram photo-shoot location, or more recently, as a visual reference for the interlocking stairs in Netflix’s Squid Game series. While the dystopian associations with Bofill’s work may be cemented by pop culture, there’s a lot of color and wonder that’s missing from that imagery, which is perhaps unfair to those projects that were intent on making great architecture for all (and, in many cases, were successful at it).
While Bofill’s work was explicitly ideological, he himself was no rigid ideologue, and his architecture reflected that sense of unrestrained experimentation. He borrowed heavily from psychology, behavioral analysis, and the work of Michel Foucault (all very un-Marxist). He didn’t just design socialist housing projects, but luxury commercial developments such as the sail-like W Hotel in Barcelona and the high-PoMo 70 West Wacker Drive in Chicago. When the times changed, stylistically speaking, he changed with them, integrating the modernist social project (although much of his work is too surreal for the starkness of modernism) with the postmodern aesthetic one (whose forms he made monumental to the point of distortion), most explicitly in Les Espaces d’Abraxas in Noisy-Le-Grand.