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Architectural icon: Muralla Roja by Ricardo Bofill

The mind-boggling geometries of MC Escher meet the colour palette of a Wes Anderson movie in this pink seaside fortress

ricardo bofill's postmodern la muralla roja housing complex in spain
Fred Guillaud

Perched on a cliff in Spain’s Costa Blanca, this experimental housing complex represents the utopian dream.

It’s called La Muralla Roja, or ‘the red wall’, although it is more like a maze, composed of interlocking staircases, bridges and terraces that also come in vivid shades of pink and blue.

The building was designed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill, a man who embraced postmodernism and who famously created his home and studio in an abandoned cement factory on the outskirts of Barcelona.

ricardo bofill's postmodern la muralla roja in spain
Jeanette Hägglund

La Muralla Roja is one of several radical structures by Bofill that make up the seaside resort of La Manzanera. The scheme was developed in the mid-1960s, early on in Bofill’s career and not long after his return from a field trip to the Algerian desert.

The colours were chosen to deliberately contrast with the scenery

Having learned from the Tuareg people about their adobe mud huts, the architect channelled the spirit of North Africa into his design. With its towering walls, the building offered a modern reinterpretation of the fortified kasbah.

The complex contains 50 homes, including studio flats and two- and three-bedroom apartments, laid out as a grid of tessellating crosses, with bathrooms and kitchens grouped around the intersection of each cross. Shared facilities are dotted across the rooftops, including a secluded swimming pool and a series of solariums, designed to appeal to tourists and local families alike.

The colours were chosen to deliberately contrast with the scenery and ensure that the building looks different from every angle. Reds and pinks were applied to exterior walls, while a variety of shades of blue were selected for use on the ground surfaces and staircases, creating different effects in relationship with the sky and ocean.

Nearly five decades since its completion, La Muralla Roja’s bold aesthetic has helped re-popularise the building for an Instagram generation, turning it into a hotspot for fashion shoots and selfies. It has become a piece of architecture that not only offers a utopian vision, but also embodies a sense of joy.

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration July 2020

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