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© Vicens Gimenez

INTERVIEW WITH
BENEDETTA TAGLIABUE

MIRALLES TAGLIABUE

Benedetta Tagliabue studied architecture at the Istituto di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV) and currently acts as director of the international architecture firm Miralles Tagliabue EMBT, founded in 1994 in collaboration with Enric Miralles, based in Barcelona and, since 2010, in Shanghai. Her studio works in the fields of Architecture, design of public spaces, rehabilitation, interior and industrial design. Among her most notable projects built are the Edinburgh Parliament, Diagonal Mar Park, the Santa Caterina market in Barcelona, Campus Universitario de Vigo, and the Spanish Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo which was awarded the prestigious RIBA International „Best International Building of 2011“ award. Current studio projects include the Business School of Fudan University in Shanghai, office towers in Xiamen and Taichung, public spaces of HafenCity in Hamburg Germany, the metro station Clichy-Montfermeil in Paris, France and the metro central station in Naples, Italy.
»A healthy society is the best way to have a healthy city. When we talk about sustainability, energy or energy efficiency, we have to keep in mind that energy is a part of human energy too.«
Benedetta Tagliabue Miralles Tagliabue EMBT Barcelona
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ROLE AS AN OWNER OF AN ARCHITECTURE FIRM IN SHAPING DISCUSSIONS ABOUT WOMEN IN ARCHITECTURE?
This is a really interesting topic. In my career, on many different occasions I have spoken about women in archi- tecture and how they are treated when participating in competitions. By chance, I became the head of a studio because I founded it with my late husband. We were a couple in the world of architecture. When he died, I became the head without having the time to prepare for it beforehand. It was an experience to live through and to realize that it is not easy for female architects to arrive at this point: to lead their studio and be accepted by society, because the construction sector has always been very male-dominated. I am certain that, in architecture, women have a lot of different ways of approaching the profession and that women’s capabilities, and the subtle differences women can interpret, are very useful in society.

DO YOU THINK THAT WOMEN GENERALLY HAVE TO BE ‘BETTER’ ARCHITECTS TO CONVINCE OTHERS?
Yes, we really have to work hard. Many times I have found myself in situations where, for example, there was a big competition where the candidates were divided between men and women. Usually the women are always last. Many times when I have said, “This woman is very good, maybe she could win this big tower competition,” the answer has been, “Oh, no. She is very good but she is not supposed to win.” It happens because often women are selected, but people are still afraid. We still have to prove so much in order to arrive at a position men have held historically.

AT OUR EVENT IN FRANKFURT WE DISCUSSED THE TOPIC “FUTURE CITIES TODAY, ARCHITEC- TURE CHALLENGES”. HOW DO YOU THINK THE CITY OF THE FUTURE WILL LOOK?
Usually, when we talk about the future we talk about the present, or about what we see in the present. Maybe cities will look more like multicultural spaces. We are used to cities with their peculiar characteristics. In Berlin, London or Barcelona there is one type of society and one way of being. Nowadays we have a lot of input from people coming from other countries and from other continents who behave differently. I imagine cities becoming more diverse.

WHAT MAKES A CITY LIVEABLE FOR YOU TODAY, AND IN THE FUTURE?
It is very important for a city to be attractive. It should allow different types of public life to coexist, rather than dividing them in a very rigid, separate way. The city should consist of a soft mix between the built environment and nature. It needs places where you can relax and places which are, of course, not relaxing. In this regard, I think, Barcelona is a masterpiece, a city which is trying to become as comfortable as possible. It succeeds most of the time, partly because its infra- structure doesn’t put cars and pedestrians in conflict with each other. It can lead you to very beautiful, new and natural places like, for example, the seaside or beaches. The city is natural but, at the same time, inhabited, and this mix is very important.

THERE ARE MODELS FOR FUTURE CITIES TODAY IN ASIA. DO YOU HAVE THESE IN MIND AS FUTURE CITIES IN EUROPE?
In Europe we have to become a little more colourful, a little cosier, more able to appreciate what we have. Still, we have to be able to mix it with something culturally different or with a different mind-set. I hope that Europe will allow this transformation in order to make their cities livelier. Europe is absolutely fantastic.

OUR CITIES ARE GROWING AND GROWING, WHICH CAN THREATEN BOTH SUSTAINABILITY AND QUALITY OF LIFE. DO WE NEED A NEW SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGY?
I think we do. Our concept of sustainability goes along with the different perceptions we have of the danger we are facing in the future, and our understanding of its details. We need to understand the many factors that have an impact on a city’s sustainability. One of the really important factors is the wellbeing of the citizens, which is what makes a city more or less successful. This includes the aesthetic factor or the homely factor. In this regard, we, as architects, have so much in our hands – peoples’ happiness is the great weapon against the aggressiveness that often grows from a city and its density. Barcelona is not large or complicated, and it is a very positive city. I learned that if you have this kind of pride in being part of a city, then you look after it, you behave differently and you are more appreciative. So, good architecture, good design, a good environment and the presence of art in a city are important. This is in combi- nation with a fantastic transportation network or plenty of bicycles – the capacity to move very quickly from one place to another – which means that stress is reduced.
SPANISH PAVILION FOR EXPO SHANGHAI 2010. Shanghai, China.
© Zhen Zhonghai
SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT BUILDING. Edinburg, UK.
© Scottish Parliament Corporate
INTERNATIONAL HORTICULTURE EXHIBITION. Xian, China.
© Zhen Zhonghai
BUT DOES ARCHITECTURE REALLY CONTRIBUTE TO SUSTAINABLE CITIES EFFICIENTLY?
Architecture is really a very important factor, but we also have to understand how to ‘move’ architecture. Ratan Tata of Tata Group, a colleague from the Pritzker Jury, told me that he believed that architecture had an incredible role in pacifying societies. This is an important thing right now. When we talk about sustainability, energy or energy efficiency, we have to keep in mind that energy is a part of human energy too. It is a part of our feelings, and that kind of energy is the one that, I believe, architecture can investigate, and act upon more effectively.

THE WORDS OF GEORGE SANTAYANA ARE REMARKABLE. HE SAID, “THOSE WHO DO NOT REMEMBER THE PAST ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT.”
I agree. Sometimes we believe that technology is every- thing. This has been happening in recent years when people were condemning iconic architecture, only looking for sustainable projects. Solving everything with technology is very valuable – but that is not all. There are many subtle things in the realm of architecture. We not only need to understand the fantastic new possibilities, but also to be intelligent and draw from our past discipline to make good decisions.

HOW CAN CITIES ACCOMMODATE MORE INHABITANTS WITHOUT DESTROYING THE VERY QUALITIES THAT MADE THEM ATTRACTIVE IN THE FIRST PLACE? HOW CAN CITIES OFFER MORE SOCIAL JUSTICE AND OPPORTUNITY?
That is not easy. In our current exhibition at the Enric Miralles Foundation “Happiness and Architecture. The Not-That-Tall EMBT buildings and their public space. From Barcelona to the rest of the world” we have analyzed the possibilities of huge buildings interacting with social space or public space. If you have very big buildings with big construction, then this is more difficult.However with design you can describe very well how to make this interaction with the public space. That’s why we were talking before about the difference between Asian cities and European cities. In China they ask me, “We have to learn from you to make buildings and cities.” I reply, “We don’t have a formula because we cannot apply our formula to you. You have so many more people, much bigger dimensions. We have never tried that.” It is a challenge.

WE NEED TO LEARN FROM EACH OTHER BUT WE CERTAINLY CAN’T REPLICATE EACH OTHER.

We can apply criteria. Of course, some situations are totally new, so we don’t know whether we will be able to solve them and whether our usual way of acting is still suffi Architecture has to work out a lot. However this is a social problem involving every discipline, not only ours.

TAKE LONDON, FOR EXAMPLE. HOW DO YOU EMPHASIZE THIS CITY IN SOLVING FUTURE PROBLEMS?
The Greater London area stretches out far, consisting less of individually constructed houses. In comparison, Barcelona is more crammed. It is a different approach, obviously. London became very dense and expensive. This is a problem that we, as architects, can only solve to a small extent. We understand the rules of the market, and it is the market that is creating this. However, at the same time, we can do something. For example, last year, we gave the Pritzker Prize to Alejandro Aravena, because he demonstrated that he could delve into the topic of South America and study the housing difficulties of people who can afford very little. He understood that in most of South America self-built houses could be on the way. He spoke at universities and tried to convince politicians that they should put government programs in place. These, for example, could allow for a part of the house to be built with the help of public funding. Another part could be self-built by the inhabitants. These are small solutions, and so simple, but in order to make them happen you first need to collaborate with the university to convince the public, before your work as an architect. It is a longer process.

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPERIENCES OF GETTING ACADEMIC PLANNERS, THEORISTS, THEOLO- GISTS, DEMOGRAPHERS, POLITICIANS, DEVELOPERS, ARCHITECTS, PLANNERS AND ENGINEERS TALKING WITH EACH OTHER?
Usually I love to have an occasion, for example, a big competition where different professions are gathered. We are currently involved in a competition for a project in Milan’s former train yards. These spaces are becoming very important since they tend to be central. For us architects, the best way to approach a proposal was to call sociologists or demographers who understand the society in different ways. This is fundamental because then we understand the bigger picture, and then we can respond better. I get a lot of satisfaction from competitions when talking to friends or experts from other professions, for example, museum curators, people from the world of theatre, artists, engineers, energy experts or sociologists. I like it a lot because then I learn.
L’ÓREAL ACADEMY. Barcelona, Spain.
© Marcela Grassi
CAMPER STORE. Washington, USA.
© Anais Lafebre
CASTAÑER STORE. Barcelona, Spain.
© Olga Planas
MANY OLDER ARCHITECTS IN GERMANY HAVE DIFFICULTIES GIVING UP THEIR SPECIALIST APPROACH AND EXCHANGING IDEAS WITH ENGINEERS. DO YOU THINK THAT THE ROLE OF THE ARCHITECT HAS WEAKENED IN THIS INTERDISCIPLINARY CIRCLE?
Not weakened, but altered. I am, for example, usually the team leader. I love to participate in that. However in general this type of more traditional architect doesn’t exist anymore. The architect isn’t some sort of master anymore telling companies what to do. Maybe this was the case 30 or 40 years ago, or in Spain still 20 years ago. Take, for example, Carles Buïgas who could change the city of Barcelona by being part of the politics, infl the politicians and injecting very good ideas. He was extremely intelligent. That is not the case today.

WHAT ARE THE MOST CONFLICTING DIRECTIONS THAT SHAPE CITIES?
The biggest confl always emerge from social aspects. Let us assume that the confl in the city originate from conflicts between the inhabitants. Sometimes, if you have divided societies then you have conflict issues in the city: difficult areas, or parts that are not connected. A healthy society is the best way to have a healthy city.

FOR A HEALTHY CITY, WE NEED NEW INVES- TORS AND DEVELOPERS WHO KEEP THAT IN MIND. TODAY IT IS ALL ABOUT MONEY, NOT SUSTAINABILITY. IS THAT YOUR EXPERIENCE?

I was very amused listening to a developer such as American Gerald Hines. We collaborated with him on the Diagonal Mar project. He came to Barcelona for the first time, after that he worked in Milan and later in Germany. Now his company is moving everywhere in Europe. They were telling us, “In the United States we are discovering the great potential of the European city right now. For example, this incredible thing of having multi-function or multi-social strata in the same place because then the place is always lively during the day and night. There are always different levels that make the city safer, more sustainable and more in use.” This has been happening naturally in Europe for a long time. We don’t have to forget about that when we develop new cities. You are right, developers always think of the financial results. However sometimes they have to keep in mind that a mix can be very useful to maintain things in the future.

ONE OF THE ESSENTIAL QUALITIES OF URBANITY IS PRIVACY AND ANONYMITY. THE INDELIBLE DIGITAL TRAIL LEFT BY, FOR EXAMPLE, GPS CHANGES ALL THAT. WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THAT?
Technologies can be used in many ways, fantastic or evil. It depends on your goal. Of course, humanity has the terrible tendency to make new tools in order to lead, to govern and to control. In a way, the smart city and all the smart applications we are living with are enabling the ones who have the control over them, giving them an immense, terrible power. At the same time, we all have these fantastic possibilities, so it is a question of trying to use the technology with the best intentions.

THE PRINCIPLE PURPOSE OF CITIES IS TO FACILITATE HUMAN INTERACTION. HOW WILL THE PHYSICAL AND ONLINE WORLDS INTERACT TO CREATE A DIGITAL URBANISM?

Let us say, my telephone is able to recognise my friends, recognise me among my photos and then automatically create beautiful videos of my loved ones. Are we going towards a future in which you introduce the place, the characteristic and the character of the client – and the machine can do a project better than the architect? Maybe this is already possible with the tools we have today. But in a direct relationship with human beings, this is somehow still un-substitutable. I know that you could be a hologram, and me too, and we could have a conversation at a distance. But it is not authentic. A part of the physical world is not replaceable. Maybe in the future we will understand more what it means to be really physical.
COPAGRI PAVILION ‘LOVE IT’. Milan, Italy.
© Marcela Grassi
CITIES ARE THE FIRST PLACES TO FACE THE RESULTS OF THE MIGRATION FROM CONFLICT ZONES, AND ARE SUBJECT TO WAVES OF ANXIETY ABOUT THEIR SECURITY CHALLENGED BY TERRORISM, CIVIL UNREST AND CONTINUING RACIAL TENSION. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS SITUATION?
It demonstrates absolutely that we, as human beings, need physical contact. At no other moment in history have we been able to be totally in contact with each other without having to meet physically. However with growing cities this is a contradiction. You say, “Okay, fantastic. If I can work from the countryside, then I can stay in the countryside. The house is cheaper and I can work perfectly well. I have good, unpolluted air.” But this is not happening because we still need the physical contact. That is why we have to try to make our cities as comfortable as possible. Everybody coming here should receive some sort of education from the city: a manual instructing everybody how they should behave, and that this model is a fantastic, lovely model, from a human point of view. This is the reason it is so important to have good architecture, especially for cities.

CITIES HAVE BEEN PLANNED MAINLY WITH PRIVATE VEHICLES IN MIND. HOW WILL A MIX OF TRAFFIC INCLUDING WALKING, CYCLING AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT, AFFECT FUTURE CITY MODELS?
It could be a fantastic rationalization of traffic, of move- ments. In this sense, our children have these capacities: they easily find the bicycle area nearby. They know how to get to the subway. Probably moving physically in the city by using a bicycle or walking, physical activities, is the best way of living in a city because you are obliged to have better air, less pollution, pacified places, etc. I imagine that cities will become more and more like this.

DO YOU RATHER ENJOY LIVING IN THE CITY OR IN THE COUNTRYSIDE?
I notice that I need the city. I have always been attracted to places with a lot of density. Of course, I sometimes adore going to a mountain or an island, in front of the sea. It is possible access these places very quickly.
Everybody can do that today.

NEW ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN IS ABOUT INTELLIGENT CONCEPTS THAT INTERACT WITH THE OCCUPANTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT, USING ECO-FRIENDLY POWER. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE A FUTURE HOME?
This is not easy to imagine, I believe that more and more we like vintage style. We need some presence of the past. Everything will be easier thanks to technology, but we will need things reminding us of our past because we are humans. Our traditions define us.

OVER THE LAST 30 YEARS, THE WHOLE WORLD APPEARS TO HAVE UNDERGONE AN INCREDIBLE TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION. YET, IN ARCHITECTURAL TERMS, NOTHING HAS REALLY CHANGED. EXTERIORS LOOK EXACTLY AS THEY DID IN THE 1980S. IS IT DIFFICULT TO IMAGINE A FUTURE FOR THE BUILDINGS WE INHABIT?

I wouldn’t agree totally. Many things have drastically changed in architecture. Of course, we live in a world with gravity and so have the same limitations we have to deal with as before. However many things have been happening inside the offices of the architects. I started to be an architect at the end of the 1980s, and you can’t compare what was an office then with today. We have revolutionized our production methods. New generations are also revolutionising the working system: for example, more collaborations with people from construction, groups of builders.

I OBSERVED THAT ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION HASN’T REALLY CHANGED THOUGH, AT LEAST NOT IN GERMANY. IT IS OLD FASHIONED. IS THIS SOMETHING YOU HAVE OBSERVED?
Maybe you are right. We need time. The changes are actually very drastic, and you need time to adapt. Of course, universities are usually very academic and you cannot change so easily. Let me give you a silly example to show how much time you need for a city to adapt. When the Olympics were held in Barcelona, the seaside part was finished around 1992. Three or four years later I was going there with my young children – and there was nobody there, as though the city didn’t realize a space like this existed. But if you go today, it is totally overcrowded. if the city needed around 25 years to realize it, imagine how many years a university or an institution needs to fully adapt to a new situation.

IS EDUCATION ALWAYS BEHIND THE ACTUAL DEVELOPMENT?

Yes, what will happen is that architects finishing university will realize that they have no professional advantage over others who were faster and simply went towards some new development. Aspiring architects will start to avoid universities, or at least that type of university. Universities will have to renew themselves. Otherwise they will die.

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT CHALLENGES TO ARCHITECTS POSED BY CLIMATE CHANGE?
The tendencies are clear. We are all very attentive to new types of materials or new ways of equipping energy to the architecture we are designing. Our consciousness has changed drastically. When we started out as architects, we didn’t have this mind-set, but now it is something you cannot avoid. It is nice to investigate new materials, not just natural materials, but also materials that are discarded. This is very much part of our present situation.
CLICHY-MONTFERMEIL METRO STATION.
Paris, France. In progress.
© Miralles Tagliabue EMBT
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT THE SPECTRUM OF ISSUES YOU HAVE TO SOLVE AND THINGS YOU REALLY HAVE TO CONSIDER, ARCHITECTS SHOULDER QUITE A BURDEN.
Yes, however today even the developers are looking for lead certificates or want to have a green image. This concept is now widely accepted.

THE SPACE IN THE CITY SHOULD BE FREELY ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE. WHAT OBLIGATIONS DO ARCHITECTS HAVE IN ORDER TO SERVE A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY IN THE FUTURE?

We have to try to convince clients about the necessity of an intermediate space in relation to the buildings and the community. Otherwise, you have to make a lot of fences and people with guns defending the fences. We don’t want that, of course, and try to not make that happen, but it doesn’t depend on us entirely – if a client wants a big fence, what do you say? Nevertheless, Barcelona is a beautiful city because it historically had a kind of open attitude. For example, Diagonal Mar is a place where the city government of Barcelona had to ask a private developer because they didn’t have the money to realize such a big development. They didn’t say, “Okay, you take this piece of land and you do what you want with it.” Instead they stood right next to the private developer – who happened to be Gerald Hines. At the time, the city government was socialist, and was very clear about what they wanted: new spaces for the city. Of course, the private developer knew very well what he wanted: buildings as successful as possible so that he could sell them very expensively. He was able to do a high-rise building, but underneath he had to pay for a big park. We have to keep in mind that this kind of attitude is possible. We need to have politicians controlled by the citizens, so that they act in a good way. We have to make sure citizens are critical and speak their mind about whether they like something or not.

THE POPULATION IS GROWING IN ALL METROPOLITAN AREAS IN EUROPE. HOW DO ARCHITECTS HANDLE INTERCULTURAL ISSUES AND INCORPORATE UNIFYING ELEMENTS INTO HOUSING?

Yesterday we were talking about Alejandro Aravena about how we can look at these kinds of spontaneous movements and study them. We can’t close our eyes, which is what we usually do. Instead we can try new ways to make them acceptable. Today there are already some examples trying to improve the peripheries, the housing. Social movements are different in different places. So, for example, in Paris, they realized that they had huge problems with the outskirts and now they are trying to make them better: first of all by making mobility connections; then using the mobility connection to create effective spaces. Good public spaces should relate to the people who are really living there. I am positive, of course, because I’m an architect, and we can actually act. In Paris we are working on the stations of this Grand Paris Line right now, a very big project that has been going on and will be going on for many years. Building a connection is always good. When it will be finished, I’m sure it will be a big advantage for the area.

HOW WILL THE BIM PROCESS CHANGE HOW ARCHITECTS WORK. DO YOU USE IT?
We don’t but we are starting to move into these new processes such as BIM, using the tools we have. I’m not sure about our place in this new, transforming world. Some architecture offices are disappearing, some are uniting and making big themes or collaborations. This is what I was referring to before. Maybe architects will work more often in networks.

ACCORDING TO THE GLOBAL RISK REPORT IN 2015, THE PEOPLE ON OUR PLANET WILL NEED 55 % MORE DRINKABLE WATER THAN WE HAVE TODAY. HOW DO OR WILL THESE FACTS INFLUENCE YOUR ARCHITECTURE AND YOUR WAY OF PLANNING PROJECTS? DO YOU REGARD WATER AS A SERIOUS PROBLEM?
Yes. We understand the problem and this is something we keep in mind every time we design a park or a big urban proposal. For example, a friend of mine is a radical permaculture architect. She adores water so much. She says that water is our real mother earth and it is like worshipping a goddess. She doesn’t have a toilet. She absolutely cannot stand the idea that water is used to flush away our waste. She is holding seminars and workshops about how to use water in gardening in a way that you waste as little as possible, but also how to waste water as little as possible in daily life. She is radical and I would not be able to live like that. I say, “Okay, I know that flushing water in the toilet is not the best we can do with water, but we haven’t yet invented an alternative.” Maybe we will do, and maybe GROHE will. A toilet without any water is something that GROHE has to invent! This friend lives in the countryside and she is building a toilet that flushes into the earth, which also helps the earth to become fertile.
TAICHUNG TOWER. Taichung, Taiwan. In progress.
© Miralles Tagliabue EMBT
EXPERTS ARE TALKING ABOUT THE GREEN BUILDING GENERATION. WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH GREEN BUILDINGS, AND THE CERTIFICATIONS OF THESE BUILDINGS FOR ALL SIDES – ARCHITECTS, PLANNERS AND INVESTORS, AND THE INHABITANTS?
We have more and more success because the client is becoming aware, too, that this is a selling point. It is all about selling; it is all about interest. Now this is necessary so the promoters are aware that these themes are important. I think it would be nice to introduce more parameters in these green considerations. Parameters that not only define the physical energy consumed by the building but also the happiness you can generate for the inhabitants living inside.

IS THE WELLBEING OF THE HUMAN BEING ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN ARCHITECTURE?
Well this consideration is never quantified and never put into parameters. There is no parameter about that but we, as architects, are totally interested in it: designing a green building that encourages, for example, getting to know each other or becoming friends. These things are usually not considered because it is very diffi to put them into numbers. However I think this is a really important part.

COULD YOU PLEASE TELL US ABOUT ONE OF YOUR PROJECTS THAT CONTRIBUTED POSITIVELY TO LIVEABLE CITIES, GOOD CITIES OR SUSTAINABLE CITIES?
I would like to name the work we have done at HafenCity in Hamburg, Germany. This work is usually considered secondary because it is landscape work. Usually we work as architects, but in this case we don’t make a separation between architects and landscape architects, and we give a lot of importance to landscape. We have transformed the harbour, making it a more attractive space. This is making HafenCity a more human place, and probably a place where people will go on Sundays, in their free time, to have a stroll. HafenCity is unlike a new, usually cold city.

NAPLES UNDERGROUND CENTRAL STATION. Naples, Italy.
© Miralles Tagliabue EMBT