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Historic fusion: One of Enric Miralles' last works shows in small, exquisite scale his sensitivity to old and new, tectonic and human.

With its skewed angles, curving and intersecting elements and complex plans, the architecture of Enric Miralles, who died unexpectedly last year, was apt at one time to be consigned to Deconstructivism. Examining his richly embroidered and airy inventions, thoughtful commentators (see for instance AR August 1994) rightly traced connections to organic Modernism and the works of Scharoun, Haring and Aalto. In the architectural equivalent of the stream of consciousness in literature, Miralles had a habit of superimposing drawings and images to achieve apparently irrational compositions; but they were always underpinned by rigour and a very refined appreciation of context.

This family house in La Clota, Barcelona was designed by Miralles with his partner, Benedetta Tagliabue. Formed by amalgamating two small houses, it is a personal architectural essay. Amalgamation was shaped by the character of the existing buildings, and by the architects' desire to acknowledge history: to express the independence of the structures and, conversely, their organic integration. The interior admits and feeds off the exterior in complex intricate ways through voids and a sequence of volumes that, expanding and contracting, are made to have a constant dialogue with garden and skies.

Construction of the existing buildings, which lie side by side and are rectangular in plan, is of perforated brick within a concrete frame. In knitting the two together by means of an extension on the front, the architects have picked up the unpretentious but elegant quality of the skin and repeated it.

While combining the buildings, the extension also expresses historical division. To the right, an indented, angled and stepped section containing entrance hall and first floor gallery, has oblique windows giving glimpses of the interior to the left, of the exterior texture and garden. From the wooden gallery, which incorporates an existing balcony, you look down into the entrance hall. To the left, the extension projects and faces squarely onto the garden with big windows to the living room on the ground floor, and master bedroom above.

Behind the extension, the house falls into two interlinked but separate parts. The left-hand building has a double-height library illuminated by a funnel of light; in the right-hand one, there is clear differentiation between communal areas -- kitchen, living and dining rooms on the ground floor--and private bedrooms on the first. Like the library, this part of the house is pierced by voids.

Details throughout are a constant delight, in the library's double-height volume, movable wooden stairs reach to the height of a perimeter catwalk giving access to plain metal bookshelves. A landing between stairs and catwalk is equipped with a reading stand. An old wooden beamed ceiling over the dining room, beam ends painted with white stripes, parts to reveal a light-filled void.

To northern eyes, there is something indefinably Catalan about design of this house. It has to do with robustness, flamboyance, the vigorous manipulation of light and materials -- the sturdy wooden beams decorated in places, the diagonal slash of a wooden beam supporting first floor gallery, floors and furniture of different woods to enhance gradations of light, white walls washed by luminance. In the end, you are delighted by the architects' sheer invention and the modesty allied to it. There is nothing pretentious or grand; the materials are ordinary. You are left with the architects' evident pleasure in elaborating on what exists, in revelation. Miralles had an ability to acknowledge history without being trapped by it, and to make use of modern technology while making it subservient. This house is a small, but exquisite, part of his legacy.


Architect: Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, Barcelona

Photographs: Ducclo Malagamba

1 Entrance front: new house has exposed perforated brick within concrete frame in contrast to traditional neighbours (left).

2 Double-height library.

3 Library rooflight.

4 Upper level library.

5 Original beams are retained In library but new fittings are simple modern metal.

6 Looking from dining area to living. Ceiling void overlooked by owners' bedroom.
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Article Details
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Author:McGuire, Penny
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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