The Red Wall: A building to be acted upon
Returning home is never quite complete without a call on Ricardo Bofill’s fascinating example of 1960s housing known as “La Muralla Roja”. With the Catalan’s most remarkable work – translated as the red wall due to it’s distinctive wall-­like characteristics and colours -­ less than 5 miles from where I grew up, the temptation is too great not to visit each time I return to my hometown. It is a total coincidence that after moving away at a young age, and having spent various periods in different cities around the world to finally settle in London following many years in training as an architect, I am drawn back to explore a building only a stone’s throw from where I was brought up. Over a period of 7 to 8 years I have attempted to document, in a very informal way, the nuances and quirks of an edifice so familiar yet so uncharted. With so many moments to be discovered this is undoubtedly one of my favourite built examples representing an architecture for social action; and a building that became a classic even before it was modern.

The 50-­unit complex stands for so much more than the beauty of its concrete construction. While the aspirations of Bofill to create a place to counter the banal is well known, one really has to experience the qualities of such a place to feel the power of its organisation buried in its labyrinthine form. The building appears like a re-­making of the world, as an extension of the ground from which the building sits on; inspired by Bofill’s own Baroque ideals and the settlements of Arab and Mediterranean cities associated with the past and culture found in North Africa and the South of Spain.

The fortress-­like structure is split into blocks in a cross formation, with flats and studios of various sizes arranged carefully around individual circulation cores to provide a sense of private entry into each unit. Contrasting with this, areas widen and open out at many levels across the roof and ground floor to provide opportunities for communal activities while still offering sheltered intimate spaces for indefinite actions and situations.

As an extension of the domestic space, arranged elegantly over different floors with plenty of opportunity for chance to occur, the building is a generator for both social and independent action. Generous space, freedom to explore, the choice to move freely: it is a characteristic of contemporary housing – and even that within our cities -­ that has been removed over concerns for a space economy and lack of marketability for areas associated with shared space. Yet here we witness a conglomeration of unique moments and living conditions on what is essentially a condensed and difficult site, with potential to be repeated elsewhere.

Photoessay: A Concrete Obsession, La Muralla Roja
Location: Calpe, ESP