[Originally published in The Architectural Review July-August 2021]
It has now been more than 20 years since Enric Miralles died at the young age of 45. And even as conversations shift from questions of form-making and expression towards performance and social equity, he continues to influence new generations. Miralles was able to build an extremely ambitious and influential oeuvre, consisting almost exclusively of public buildings. This is due to many factors, starting with an excellent professional education with a strong technical basis, his innate talent and charisma, and an unusually optimistic and effervescent cultural and political moment in his native Barcelona: an alignment of the stars.
Enric Miralles i Moya (1955–2000) graduated from the ETSAB (the architecture school of Barcelona’s Polytechnic University of Catalonia) in 1978, the year Spain’s constitution was enacted after nearly four decades of fascist dictatorship and following a complicated transición. The country’s struggle for democracy was a tumultuous period; many young architects held high hopes for change, especially in regions like Catalonia, with long aspirations towards statehood. The end of centralised power after Franco’s death in 1975 spurred ambitious municipal and regional public works programmes for the construction of new libraries, town halls and other institutions. With intense rivalry among the Spanish regions, an architectural ‘space race’ developed between provincial capitals to construct the most headline-grabbing public works.