Enric Miralles: Architecture of Time

Luis Diego Quiros, Stefanie MaKenzie, Derek McMurray


There are, said Lichtenberg, two ways of prolonging life. The first consists in putting the maximum distance between the points of birth and death, and thereby extending the journey...The other way consists in walking more slowly, leaving the points where God desires them to be; this is the way of the philosophers, who have discovered that the best thing is to walk in a zigzag, botanizing and trying to jump a ditch here, and further on, where the ground is bare and nobody sees them, performing a somersault.1

It is this zig-zag way that Catalan architect Enric Miralles chose to live and explore in his architecture. Through his career and partnerships with wives Carmen Pinos and, later, Benedetta Taglibue, Enric Miralles was concerned with the relation between life, time and architecture. Or, as this article states, with exploring an architecture of time.

In a time architecture, as Miralles called it, his work becomes a machine to collect time. Accordingly, a work of architecture does not exist forever as one specific entity, unchanged. Miralles' architecture lives through constant additions and new variations, because as he stated

To be permanent is contrary to existence. Things are forever changing.2

Miralles also believed that throughout an architect's career, every aspect of his personal and professional life was influential to his own projects. For him, architecture is not about fixed theories or ideas. He understood and believed that philosophy is the search for wisdom, thus, his life and projects are not related to fixed models. Rather, as he said, he became an architect because of his curiosity to discover. As Miralles stated, he simply wanted to learn and change with knowledge:

...architects work by assembling groups of ideas, images and requirements. No project can be produced in isolation. At various stages in an architect's career, each design, rather than simply existing as a project in itself is, therefore, also used experimentally by the architect, from which new ideas can be developed...3

For Miralles, an architect's learning process can be divided into three stages. The first is seeing and studying a particular building. The second is one's actual interpretation and relationship with the building -which affects the way one absorbs architecture and how one applies this experience. These lead to a third stage, the moment when the architect can offer something in return. This is an idea directly related to the project to be analyzed: The Igualada Cemetery and the regenerative process implicit in the work.

Through the analysis of the Igualada Cemetery the article intends to demonstrate that in an architecture of time, the journey -in life, time and space- is what matters. A journey that in Miralles architecture is conceived to be both experiential and referential at the same time. Experiential because one experiences the instant. Referential because this present experience is refered to previous or future events, thus bringing together different moments in time.

The Journey

Through history, many have refer to life as a journey. In this voyage everybody is free to take his own path; people experiment the world the way they want to. But two things will always be present: space and time. Architecture, according to Miralles, is a companion of mankind through this journey, consequently it should refer not only to the space we live in, but also, to time. For Miralles, the architect becomes a collector of time and space.

In the project for the Igualada Cemetery, in Barcelona, Miralles was presented with the opportunity to explore the concept of time in architecture. The first stage of the design process produced two decisions. First, to deal with the pre-existing conditions of the site as a way of dealing with its past and with the memories embedded in it. Second, to study the history and meanings of places for burials and to apply them as part of the collective memories nurtured by generations. The Cemetery became a long man-made path, built as part of the landscape, through which people experience different spaces and instants while moving. Memories and meaningful places along the way make the users travel through time in their minds, remembering moments while at the same time experiencing the present. Experience of space and reference to other events are achieved at the same time.

Contemporary architectural settings are usually experienced as having their origin in singular moments of time. They evoke an experience of flattened or rejected temporality. Yet, the existential task of architecture is to relate us to time as much as to space... The mental roles of these two fundamental existential dimensions are curiously reversed. In terms of space, we yearn for specificity, whereas in our temporal experience we desire a sense of continuity. Consequently, architecture has to create a specificity of space and place, and at the same time, evoke the experience of temporal continuum.4

Miralles' architecture achieves this specificity of space and continuum of time incorporating both, time and space, through images, knowledge and experiences of the past, the present and the future. Miralles believed that an architecture of time is composed of various and diverse ways of experiencing layers of time.

The Catalan architect believed that persons collect layers of time as they move through time and space. In this sense, the journey, became the most important element in Miralles's architecture. He suggests about his work:

In temporary architectures I explore the idea of the journey. Through the journey you arrive at the idea of variations and you learn that these are as important as the final results... The end result is no more than a more defined vibration that grows out of all changes that have been between the initial project and the final construction. In its very formation, architecture incorporates the idea of the journey, of the variable.5

It is movement through space in time (the journey) that reveals the arresting layers of space found in Miralles architecture. As one moves through his spaces, one collects instants in time. Each moment one experiences a different form, a different view, a different space.

This layers of time are also found in Miralles's drawings. In just a few drawings Miralles didn't draw human figures to represent the relationship between architecture and person. Instead, he drew a line representative of the human experience of the place, his movement. For him, plans are the most important drawings because he is able to show the journey, the timely expression of how a person would experience that particular space:

The experience of walking may be seen as a kind of writing on the surface of the ground. It is a trace of movement which seem to discover a particular place. Fragments of various hypothetical movement patterns generate a geometry that becomes woven into reality in such a way that it is capable of engendering new shapes. These traces occupy the entire space. 6

As one moves through the Igualada Cemetery, different spaces are reveal. Through procession of space and time the participant experiences the work of Miralles. Passing the threshold of the cemetery the descent along the journey begins. The entrance to the Cemetery is on a curved platform located at a higher level to the rest of the site. Visitors pass through two splayed strut's which have been likened to the crosses on Calvary. The Chapel is to the left. Rows of burial niches guide the visitor within and below the site, where the final space is revealed. For Miralles, each step of the way is related to an instant, each fragment of the journey is meaningful. In the Igualada project he achieved one of his ideas:

TIME becomes a precise place where to think about a form. 7

Referential and Experiential Time

In the Cemetery every space was designed to provoke thoughts, memories. As movement takes place, meaningful views are exposed. The spaces evoke recollections of past events and important moments. It is the relationship between the actual experience and its reference to something else, through which Miralles generates his Time Architecture. Time is presented in both experiential and referential ways. They both work together.

Experiential time is concerned with the present, with the actual events that take place while the person is in the Cemetery. It is the sensory experience the person undergoes while moving and being in the cemetery's spaces. These experiences produce bodily and mental processes that relate to the instant just lived. There is no deep reaction, it takes place in seconds. Different from the passing of thoughts and memories through the mind, it is an instinctive response.

Experiential architecture is about the path, about movement. It is the process from which the moments that are indicative of the referential elements in Miralles architecture appear. It is just through movement that one discovers the cemetery:

Although the design is one of fluidity with shapes that direct the viewer through the architecture, the actual feeling of movement that pervades it can only be truly experienced as one moves within the space itself.8

For the Igualada Cemetery Miralles designed different experiences for different moments. The journey starts at the top, where the whole project can be viewed. The procession starts here and then moves through different floor textures: gravel, wood, concrete and pavers. They all follow a natural order, as planting and soil would do in a mountain path (such as the one the cemetery is on.) The rough ground seems and feels as if eroded by the rain. The stillness of the paths allows the visitor to feel loneliness, privacy, as well as the sense that one is discovering a place that has been forgotten.

The openness at the end of the path, plus the changes in the floor textures, makes the visitor feel different. This final opening in the site, housing the mausoleums, forms a parallel with the chapel and the mortuary buildings located in the entrance. Its circularity re-shapes the existing contours of the land, and by using stone from the excavation, Miralles returned the material to the original site. The feeling is that of being embedded by the site, of being surrounded.

To show this layering of experiences, in his drawings for the cemetery, Miralles overlapped sections and plans as they would appear during the procession. Singular moments of time are enphasized; particular spatial experiences he wanted the person to go through are given more importance. His drawings didnt follow an orthogonal composition, he overlapped them in order to achieve a relationship between the path and the three dimensional-spatial experience. As he explained his design process also departed from this idea:

I believe that one of the most characteristic things about my work is that I never have a priori idea of the space I am trying to create; I always posit some kind of ground plan as a point of departure, rather than working from elevations or three-dimensional configurations I am much more attuned to the idea of a productive accumulation in plan rather than to working in section.9

Accumulation is what Miralles looked for. The actual experience of a building linked to a previous reference of meaning is what produces new discoveries, what generates the architects knowledge. Experiential time is complimented by referential time, becoming one through the present journey.

Referential time is the way in which Miralles's projects allude to other instants in time: past and future made present. It is how memories and meanings are brought to the actual moment. He does this in two ways: by making reference to his previous works and experiences (both his own and others) and by incorporating the historical and cultural past of the region and site where the project is located.

Referential architecture is made of instants and images that bring back memories and significance to the actual experience. It is the process of thinking and then reacting, it is a escape from reality to memory. This is why in all his projects metaphors and meanings are applied to architectural elements such as materials and site.

In the Igualada Cemetery everything is significant, every small detail is full of meaning. The idea of the passing of time is continuous throughout the project. From the initial concept, that of a project that blends with the site, not just by its design, but by the growing trees that will cover it in the future; to the materials used: layers of excavated soil held together by a mesh of steel that will rust through time, changing its color; wood on the floor meant to weaken and change its appearance; lamps and plaques designed to deteriorate: everything is changing in time. Miralles did not try to control time, but evolve with it and its ever changing characteristics:

Rather than intervening on the land, here is a built work that now awaits intervention by its changing natural environment. 10

For Miralles, the Igualada project is referential to a metaphorical statement. The conceptual foundation of the cemetery lies in the framework of passing of time. But the challenge manifested itself not in the ideal of the passing of time, but in the avoidance of death closely associated with cemeteries as well as finality. The metaphysical relationship between the living and dead takes place as the necropolis or city of dead becomes place for the living and mortal time unfolds spatially.

Integrating the living, the procession adopts a social landscape involving street like form and communal spaces; relationships such as man-architecture, architecture-site, site-landscape and thus, man-landscape are forced to refine themselves within this valley of the dead, in which the cemetery emulates the path of life and landscape of time.

Ultimately, Miralles hopes for the cemetery to: display an acceptance of the cycle of life to enable a link between the past, the present, and the future11 was achieved.

Conclusions: Miralles's Time Architecture

It seems, observe the architects (Miralles and his partner Benedetta Tagliabue), that who speaks last is right. It appears that the latest building is the only that can be spoken of. For this reason it's difficult to make a leap forward in time and act as sensors of the future. Our solution is to always say the same thing, or almost the same. We propose small variations in a work which does not take that the building has a sense of finality, a temporal status, but which believes that a project is made of unconnected instants, which communicate things that are independent of each other, which are superimposed... but which appear equal. At times only the person who's capable of consistently starting and making the same movement seems to advance. This small vibration may say something about the future.12

An architecture of time incorporates not just present sensory and mental experiences, but makes present instants in past or future times. With his architecture Miralles related time and space, to create an eternal and real present by remembering the past and making the future of his work become the basis for a continuous time experience.

The Igualada Cemetery is an example of his proposals, and the construction of its chapel could even be read as a metaphor for the whole work; it seems to summarize the concept for the project, remaining unfinished even today. The cemetery is a place that blends with the site, not just spatially but temporally, renewing its memories and past. A project that expresses the changing of time through its materiality and which puts the visitors in contact with the meaning of their very personal journeys their lives.

Many questions may arise from his approach to architecture, from his way of relating everything to a time experience. What about timeless experience? Isnt there moments where you felt that an instant was eternal? Or instants that last in time in your head? But overall, what is found in Miralles architecture is his philosophy of life: a search for wisdom through the journey, through life. Miralles architecture shows his own understanding of what life is: an experience in both time and space.

In the year 2000, Miralles was buried in the Igualada Cemetery, becoming part of its history, part of the space, but more important, part of its changing time.


  1. Zabalbeascoa, Anatxu: Miralles-Tagliabue:Time Architecture.Gingko Press, USA, 1999.
  2. Futagawa, Yoshio: Focus on an Architect: Enric Miralles, Benedetta Tagliabue GA DOCUMENT. No 60. November 1999, p. 92-129.
  3. Zabalbeascoa, Anatxu: Igualada Cemetery: Enric Miralles and Carmen Pinos, Phaidon Press, London, 1996.
  4. Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Space of Time. Oz. v.20 1998, pp54-57.
  5. Zabalbeascoa, Anatxu: Miralles-Tagliabue:Time Architecture.Gingko Press, USA, 1999.
  6. Frampton, Kenneth, editor: Technology, Place & Architecture: The Jerusalem Seminar in Architecture Rizzoli International Publications, USA, 1992.
  7. Miralles, Enric: Alicante Eurythmic Sports Center/Huesca Sports Hall/Santa Caterina Market. GA Document, 1999, Nov. n 60.
  8. Zabalbeascoa, Anatxu: Igualada Cemetery: Enric Miralles and Carmen Pinos, Phaidon Press, London, 1996.
  9. Frampton, Kenneth, editor: Technology, Place & Architecture: The Jerusalem Seminar in Architecture Rizzoli International Publications, USA, 1992.
  10. Zabalbeascoa, Anatxu: Igualada Cemetery: Enric Miralles and Carmen Pinos, Phaidon Press, London, 1996.
  11. Zaballbeasscoa, Anaxtu: Igualada Cemetery: Enric Miralles and Carmen Pinos, Phaidon Press, London, 1996.
  12. Zabalbeascoa, Anatxu: Miralles-Tagliabue:Time Architecture.Gingko Press, USA, 1999.

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