Walking to Begin: Enric Miralles’ Working ProcessCatherine Spellman
Enric Miralles talked a lot about the beginning of a project. How to begin, where to begin, and what to begin with? These are complex and important questions to discuss, because a project’s beginning will determine its direction. There are many productive ways to begin a project and each implies a certain process of working.
Fig.1 Miralles Pinós detail at Igualada Cemetery.
Miralles also said that an architectural project could begin with anything. How is one to decide on a particular beginning? When asked, Miralles suggested a book by the literary theorist Edward Said titled Beginnings: Intention and Method. It is a volume on beginnings in literature with many themes overlapping with architecture. Substitute the word “architect” for “writer” and you will find that the book speaks directly to our discipline. Said writes, “Every writer knows that the choice of beginnings is crucial because it determines much of what follows but also because a work’s beginning is, practically speaking, the main entrance into what it offers…A beginning immediately establishes relationships with works already existing, relationships of either continuity or antagonism…The beginning is the first step in the intentional production of meaning.” On finishing this book, I too was convinced, architecture and all creative work can begin with anything; later, it is a question of how the work is developed.
My first class at the Städelschule with Miralles began in October 1992 with an informal lecture about his recent walk to the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. He talked about architecture and walking as parallel activities that informed and influenced the reconstruction of the path from the city to the Acropolis. The project by Dimitri Pikionis happened over two decades with the architect continuously present on the site. Miralles proposed that the project began with Pikionis simply walking. Many architects do begin a project by walking the site either literally or in their mind. It is a common way of experiencing the place, learning the dimensions, gathering knowledge. However, Miralles suggested something quite different, the physical experience of walking was turned into an idea for the project to relate the past to the present. This really intrigued me, probably because I walk a lot, which embeds in my memory details of the places walked.
Consequently, I have strong memories of conversations with Miralles while walking. During the time I taught with Miralles at the Städelschule and later as a friend, we would walk: with students, family, friends, collaborators; to see architecture projects, to go eat or shop, to meet sponsors or visit sites for projects, to catch the train or plane. Conversations were mundane, extraordinary, and fragmented by the circumstance of time and place. This essay develops segments of these conversations with Miralles around the topic of “Walking to Begin.” Each segment begins with some historical background to establish a common context around the topic.