Since she founded Miralles Tagliabue EMBT in 1994 with her husband Enric Miralles (1955-2000), Benedetta Tagliabue has become an international institution in the field of contemporary architecture. Based in Barcelona and since 2010 in Shanghai, the studio has built public and private buildings both in Europe and China as emblematic as the Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona or the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
Among the many awards that Benedetta Tagliabue has achieved throughout her career, we find the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize in 2005 for the Scottish Parliament, the RIBA International to the Best Building in 2011 (for the Spanish Pavilion of the Shangai Expo 2010) and the RIBA Jencks Award in 2013 for her internationally contribution to both theory and practice of architecture. In addition, she has been a jury member of several awards around the world, such as the Príncipe de Asturias awards or the Pritzker Prize.
Although more than 20 years have passed since the founding of the EMBT study and the way of doing architecture has evolved a lot since then, there are two things that she has been able to keep there for all these years. On one side, the works, models and collages made by hand, because as Benedetta says, “through the hands you can come to understand your most unconscious thoughts”. On the other side, the desire of doing different things and experimenting.
HORSE: In terms of architecture, what would you say is the hallmark of your studio or its distinguishing feature?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: We have always wanted to integrate our architecture with the environment, but now we are also trying to be fluent in the way we draw and understand the places we build around the world. To be very open-minded and let the circumstances and situations almost draw the project.
HORSE: Context is something that you consider when you’re starting a project. Which one has been the more difficult for working?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: In more rigid contexts or where there is no dialogue that develops well. This happened once in Andorra, for example. It is also important to have good clients to have good results.
HORSE: You have said that it is very important understanding human behavior to make good architecture. In what sense does human behavior influence your projects?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: When we finish the projects, what I like the most is to photograph people how they use them. This is for me a part of the project, the proof to see if we have really done something that works and makes happier the people. We also work with sociologists and anthropologists. We are very attentive to the whole environment, the people and the feng shui of everything.
“We have always wanted to integrate our architecture with the environment”
HORSE: Currently, you work in Asia where you have a Studio. How has this fact interfered with your concept of architecture?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: You realize right away, when you are in another place, what is the difference between things that are important to other people and to you. I am very happy to have worked in China and to be in other places because I think it is a learning process. In China they give more importance to the practical things, the size, the greatness, the enormity, the numbers. We have always had more in consideration the quality, but sometimes the quality is not everything and the number wins.
HORSE: Between your last works you have designed a lamp with wood pieces or a family of tables with Martha Thorne for The Workshop of Dreams. Are these types of jobs done by industrial designers?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: The lamps were made with the company Bover, because its founder fell in love with our models of domes and she asked if she could make a lamp with them. An industrial designer of the company tried to interpret a model that we gave him and he transformed it in order to be produced and sold.
The low tables, on the other hand, came from a specific project and they are unique pieces made by some fantastic wood craftsmen who are called La Navarra. I would love to do more this type of incursions, we do not do them as a profession and they are specific things that people ask us.
HORSE: What projects are you working on now?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: We have many projects outside Spain. I love two subway stations, one in Paris and another in Naples, which are developing at the same time. This seems very nice to me because through an improvement in transportability we improve the whole environment. We are also finishing in China several buildings, a huge tower in Taiwan which is the largest building we have ever done, a very large university in Shanghai, a small museum in Neijiang for the painter Zhang Da Qian…
HORSE: What does mean for you to create sustainable architecture?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: Sustainability for me is to make a building that works, that will last in time, that gives happiness and doesn’t spend too much while you are using it. We have always done this and we have always been happy to live in the old town. For us it is very important to reuse things, to live with new and old things and to appreciate their life.
But although we have always live with the sustainable subject, I do not like to say this word because it is too much used. There are resiliency, vision or other types of terms that now always come into any project.
“For us it is very important to reuse things,
to live with new and old things and
to appreciate their life”
HORSE: Are you close to collaborations with NGOs?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: Yes, for example we are now doing a Maggie’s Centre in Barcelona, near the Hospital of Sant Pau. It is a center for people with cancer who are doing chemo or radiotherapy to go to rest, make a cup of tea and be a little quiet. Maggie was an architect who suffered cancer and began to idealize and theorize such a place. When she died, her husband, the well-known architect Charles Jencks, decided to continue with her idea and implemented many places like these made by good architects.
With my friend Victoria Subirana, formerly Vicky Sherpa, I collaborated with a school in Nepal and now she’s asking me to do other schools. We are also doing a Buddhist center in Tenerife, which is more a health center where people can go to meditate and find a type of alternative medicine. All this we do through the Foundation as an occasion of experimentation.
HORSE: You are a jury member of the prestigious Pritzker Prize. In your opinion, what is the main characteristic of a great architectural work?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: The definition of the Pritzker Prize is to give the prize to someone who has influenced humanity with his work. You have to think about architects who know how to change, improve or contribute something to humanity with their quality of work.
The nice thing about being a member of the Pritzker jury is that almost half of the jury are not architects or they are architects who have decided to do other things. They are top-notch people with a non-internal point of view of the profession who see the works differently, so you have to make the effort to understand the quality with the eyes of others.
“The definition of the Pritzker Prize is to
give the prize to the architect who has
influenced humanity with his work”
HORSE: What do you most admire about the last two winners of the Pritzker: Alejandro Aravena in 2016 and Frei Otto in 2015?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: Frei Otto was almost an engineer more than an architect, a wonderful experimenter with elegance and beauty. He had groups of experimenters inside the University who worked with him going forward with technical knowledge and looking in the past ways to build with bamboo. He died before get the prize but his experimental influence at this moment is very strong among the new generations.
Aravena, on the other hand, is a social architect. It is the first time that the Pritzker Prize is awarded an architect who decides to do some humanitarian aid and work with very humble houses, especially in South America. Trying to make a construction that can be followed with a self-built is a very intelligent thought that has conquered us, because he works at the same time as conventional architect, politician and inventor of social systems.
HORSE: A material, a texture and a geometric shape that inspire or represent you.
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: Natural braided materials, such as the wicker we experimented with in Shanghai or the laminate wood from the Dzamling Gar Center in Tenerife. It is about braiding the structure so that it looks like a fabric. I am very interested in a type of forms that come from sacred geometries, they are adopted in most religions and are almost the same of nature: snow, ice, crystals…
HORSE: What do you do when you need inspiration?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: I go to the sea with my dog, every wave is a little battery recharging. We would have to find the time to do it almost every day.
HORSE: You also preside the Fundació Enric Miralles. How did the idea of a Foundation in his honor come up?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: I always had this idea because Enric died young, when in the studio we were in the middle of fantastic projects and we had many desires to do things. The Foundation was the way to keep alive this spirit, the desire to experiment and also his memory, more than anything with future generations and young people. For a long time it was only a difficult idea to implement until one day the spaces under the studio were released and I saw that it was the perfect occasion.
“Enric Miralles was a person who
loved architecture as emotion
unlike other architectures that
only have to solve a theme”
HORSE: One of the objectives of the Foundation is not to forget the particular point of view of Enric Miralles. What would you highlight about him?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: He was a person who loved architecture as emotion unlike other architectures that only have to solve a theme.
“The Foundation was the way to keep
alive this spirit, the desire to
experiment and also his memory”
HORSE: Art and design are highlighted sections in our magazine. Who do you consider your referents in art and design?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: We have a library full of books and every time we need to have a good inspiration we open one book or the other, there are always different references and also depends on the moments. Frei Otto and Buckminster Fuller have been our referents. One referent very strong in the school of Barcelona is Le Corbusier. Lately I have seen one of his architectures, La Tourette, and it is so powerful…
“Frei Otto and Buckminster Fuller
have been our referents”
HORSE: The concept with Magazine Horse identifies you is PRESTIGE by your brilliant career as an architect. What would mean to have prestige for you?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: Have a group of people listening to you, the possibility of a conversation. I do not like to think of prestige as something distant. I like to have the prestige as something close to you that you can have with your children and the people who live in your life.
HORSE: In Horse we usually talk about special trips. For your work you have been able to visit many places. Which trip would you recommend to our readers and which will be your next one?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: Lately I like to travel to tropical and warm places. Now I am planning to go to Madagascar because I still do not know how it is.
HORSE: What do you usually do in your free time to disconnect?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: Listening to music, going for a walk, going to the sea, meditating, dancing … Doing things that connect me with my body, with my life and energy.
HORSE: What is your favorite color, movie and book?
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE: My color I think is yellow, it conquers me and gives me strength.
The films change over time. Lately I saw Blow-Up by Michelangelo Antonioni, I recommended it to my son who is studying cinema.
For years, I would have told you that my book would be À la recherche by Marcel Proust, but now I’m reading many books of Oriental culture. They are so different that they have really made me almost forget my European literary background.
Close, vital and dynamic, Benedetta Tagliabue not only conquers for the impeccable taste of her work, but for her smiling personality, the peace she conveys and her desire to improve the world. Because in the end the prestige is obtained being exceptional and Benedetta is an exceptional woman in every sense.
Images courtesy of EMBT and Jordi Blancafort.