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Farewell Ceremonies

The deaths of Miralles and Oíza, which have coincided with those of the American Hejduk and Dieste, give a melancholy glow to the placidity of summer.

Luis Fernández-Galiano   /  Source:  El País
30/04/2001


July was November, and it snowed in the summer. With the dreaded deaths of Miralles and Oíza, Barcelona lost a son, Madrid a father, and Spain two disproportionate architects who now inhabit the frosty territory of history. We learned of the disappearance of Enric Miralles at midday, and that of Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oíza shortly before midnight, a time difference that symbolises the diversity of the loss and the distance that separates a journey that is too long from a career that has been completed: at 45, the Catalan left us at the zenith of his fractured orbit of life; at 81, the Navarrese left the scene at the end of his biographical representation. Therefore, if Miralles remains in the emotion like an open and bleeding wound in the heart of the day, Oíza closes the long furrow of his journey with the cushioned pain of a cauterized lesion from the twilight. In his farewell, both have been accompanied by poets: on 3 July, Miralles died in Sant Feliu de Codines while John Hejduk, an architect whose most valuable legacy is his hermetic drawings and his books of poetry and fables, died in New York; and a fortnight later, on 18 July, Oíza died in Madrid while José Ángel Valente, the most ineffable voice of contemporary Spanish poetry, died in Geneva. It is also an appropriate coincidence, because if Miralles' plans and texts vibrate with the same calligraphic and lyrical intensity as some of Hejduk's sketches and stories, Oíza's prophetic and paradoxical verb burns in a dark light that is not unaware of the transcendent and visionary brilliance of so many of Valente's writings.

Miralles was not only the most gifted architect of his generation; he was artistic creation in its purest form. From his letters in the form of calligrams to the unusual napkins of a domestic lunch, everything about him and his life transmitted a sensation of luminous ease and exact imagination that crystallised into objects or strokes of prodigious harmony. Nourished by a vast and dispersed visual culture, and moved by a seemingly inexhaustible energy, Miralles created a formal universe of such extraordinary originality and beauty that it will remain an unfading legacy. From my dazzled admiration, I occasionally reproached him for his functional discouragement and constructive adventurism, warning him that this attitude could lead him to have more past than future; he did not like my criticism, and for a while he signed his faxes with a sore "Enric, the one who has more past than future". But that giant had a broad back, and when I saw him playing basketball with his Harvard students at the end of an exhausting day of judging, I could not imagine that anything could break his muscular determination. Cancer did it, and so suddenly and violently that it is still hard to think of him dead. "I don't know if I've written to you, but I've thought about you many times," he said in his last fax, describing his life in Houston with his wife Benedetta, his two children and his mother, announcing his forthcoming return to Spain and expressing his "amazement at the human values, the affection".

The Catalan Enric Miralles died at the zenith of his career, at the age of 45, and his remains rest in the Igualada cemetery, a magical concrete landscape that will survive in the 20th century canon as his best work.

He exchanged Robert Stern's Texan house, which had been lent to him by the developer Gerald Hines, for another belonging to José Antonio Coderch in a village near Barcelona, but fate would only grant him two weeks there. We buried him in his cemetery in Igualada, a magical concrete landscape whose project he won in a competition at the age of 30 with his first wife, Carme Pinós, and which will surely survive in the canon of architecture of this century that ends up as his best work. Unfinished and as brilliant as his own life, no architect will have a final scenario of greater pathos, poetry and emotion. Moved by the simultaneous death of Mi-ralles and Hejduk, Peter Eisenman calls me to explain his project for a posthumous tribute to his American colleague, with whom his own biography - from the New York Five to the Cooper Union - was so intimately entwined: If Fraga does not object, he will erect in his City of Culture in Galicia the two towers that Hejduk did not manage to build in the Belvís Park in Compostela, and the stone topography of that monumental and symbolic mountain will have two new glass and granite pilgrimage landmarks. In the case of Miralles, it is possible that the final tributes also refer to unfinished projects, from the Scottish Parliament to the headquarters of Gas Natural the Santa Caterina market in Barcelona. It is difficult to know how many of these will be brought to fruition, and how many will be ruined by the misguided example of Gaudí's Sagrada Familia; but Miralles' unique place in history will not be affected by these vicissitudes.

In the face of the mythical drama of a premature death, complete biographies fade into the pale landscape of habit. Oíza was a great teacher of us all, but his octogenarian demise varnishes the architect with the dull glow of normal life. He died at almost the same age as Eladio Dieste, the great Uruguayan engineer who died the next day in Montevideo, two transits that can only be considered early if compared with those of the two great ladies of architecture who have disappeared in recent months: Le Corbusier's collaborator Charlotte Perriand, who died at the age of 96; and the author of the Frankfurt kitchen, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, who died five days before her 103rd birthday. Hejduk and Valente have both left us at 71, and even this age cannot be associated with an unfinished journey.

The Navarrese Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oíza died at the age of 81; his passionate curiosity led him to travel many roads and left a vast legacy, including works from his youth such as the Basilica of Aránzazu.

In the case of Oíza, his death was preceded by a long period of estrangement which prepared us for his loss; produced by this, melancholy brings to mind the passionate personality of an architect of pyrotechnical intelligence and infinite curiosity, capable of drinking from all sources and to whom only his stylistic dispersion denied the international recognition due to him, and which he compensated with his volcanic and controversial popularity in Spain. A charismatic professor of the Madrid School, and a master of architects like Rafael Moneo, I was fortunate to share the same classrooms, and to agree with him in several juries where his lively word was transformed into modest indecision; he was again himself at lunches, where he delighted us with his love of paradoxes and geometric enigmas. In Madrid he built admirable social housing districts in the fifties, and two emblematic towers that remained as respective symbols of the formal concerns of the sixties and the technological fascination of the seventies, Torres Blancas and the Banco de Bilbao, culminating his career in the eighties with the M-30 ring, a colossal housing complex on the edge of the motorway that brings Rossi and Venturi together, and that fuses his residential research with his monumental passion in a syncretic work that was the most debated in his long career. But at the time of his farewell I would prefer to remember here a project he carried out just after his 30th birthday - the same age as Miralles when he won the Igualada competition - and during which he met María Felisa, who is now his widow, and the sculptor Jorge Oteiza, for whose future museum he conceived his last project, currently on display in the form of a model at the Venice Biennale: I am referring to the Basilica of Aránzazu, an inverted nave made of stone and wood that is defended by towers of ancestral violence, and which holds in its whale's belly the promise of resurrection represented by Jonah. In front of Miralles' tomb in Igualada's cemetery there is a landscape of concrete tombstones partially raised by an interior wind that transmits the same message of hope, and it is possible that this tenacity of spirit is the best legacy of these two immortal architects.


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