New York

Ricardo Bofill and Taller de Arquitectura, “The City: Classicism and Technology”

Max Protetch

Ricardo Bofill is not another Richard M. Hunt or Daniel Burnham, but he is a great classicist and consummate planner. With each successive project, he exhibits more certitude, precision, and monumental intent, as well as less concern for human scale and the congruence of style and technology Bofill’s work is a strong statement against the ad hoc, incremental investigations by many architects and planners in the ’60s and ’70s, as well as against the organic, cumulative character of most cities and spaces. He leaves little possibility for intervention in his buildings and spaces, or for the measure and marks of time. His architecture appears both timeless and ageless.

The quality of drawings in this exhibition was remarkable. In fact, they were so seductive it was often difficult to register what they represented—what kind of architecture these drawings had willed into construction. Four drawings by Fernando Trueba, of “Los Jardines del Turia” (The gardens of Turia, 1981), propose a linear series of floating gardens for Valencia. The watercolor washes over Xerox prints represent, in aerial perspective, a managed and manicured landscape to rival the most compulsive formal French garden, with alées and sight lines, parterres and ponds, monumental pavilions and trained vegetation. This is not the kind of public space where workers would congregate or the homeless might nap; an upper-crust public garden, it’s both beautiful and ruthless.

The drawings of Bofill’s huge apartment complexes represent projects that have catapulted him to fame and controversy. La Place du Nombre d’Or (The square of the golden number) in Antigone, Montpellier, was presented through ink-on-vellum drawings completed between 1978 and 1980 that document the comprehensive, unalterable planning, the ordered, meticulously proportioned elevations, and the important relationship of buildings and open spaces that Bofill brought to this and other projects. This declarative, perhaps dogmatic, architecture is based on a set and narrow idea about occupancy and public life.

Included in the exhibition were drawings for Bofill’s 1974 proposal for the gardens of Les Halles, in Paris. Using the same medium and technique of more recent drawings (watercolor over Xeroxes), the renderings contrast vividly with the architect’s historicist agenda for the ’80s. These restless drawings are expressive, a little crude, and propose an architecture with unfinished qualities. The same sense of planned spaces and thoughtful sequences is here, but without the absolute, inhibiting control of Bofill’s most recent work.

No one can accuse Bofill of pastiche Postmodernism; there is genuine conviction in the thoroughness of his historical recapitulations. His contribution to architecture is the silent city These drawings and projects appear to direct all energy silence the variety of living, and orchestrate movement with authority Bofill’s recent work, magnificent in many ways, shows how an architecture of absolute ideals sets great limits and small visions for the future.

Patricia C. Phillips