On the over-developed Costa Blanca, two buildings stand out from the bland concrete blocks – Ricardo Bofill’s Xanadu and Muralla Roja
Every summer since I was two years old I have stayed in my grandmother’s house near Calpe in Spain. Usually it is too hot to do much except swim or sit in the shade with a book but occasionally I go to see the two extraordinary Ricardo Bofill projects in Calpe: Xanadu and Muralla Roja.
When my grandmother bought her house in the 1950s, Calpe was a small fishing village. The package holiday boom followed not long after and some of the most spectacular coastline in Europe was destroyed with hasty over-development. While part of this building boom, the two Bofill projects are leagues apart from the rest of the bland concrete development that surrounds them. Both respond directly to the landscape in different ways.
Xanadu is a kind of mash-up between the majestic Penon d’Ifach, which is visible behind it, and a mountain village. The colours and the mountainous massing echo the big rock, while the organic distribution of pitched roofs, cantilevers, arched shutters and little balconies reads like a vernacular settlement. It was extraordinary in 1971 and there is still nothing else like it.
The residents aren’t very happy about architecture tourists infiltrating the fortress-like Muralla Roja but it is still sometimes possible to persuade someone to let me in. Once inside, the cool courtyards, the kaleidoscope of colours and Escher-like stairs are mesmeric. Huge slits in the pink and lilac walls frame and contrast the bright blue of the Mediterranean beyond. Moving from a blue courtyard to a pink or lilac courtyard is very intense, reminding me of Dan Flavin’s experiments in resetting the eye’s white balance using different colours of neon lights. At the top of the complex there is a wonderful cross-shaped communal swimming pool for residents.
These projects are completely joyful and thrilling. They show that it is possible to respond to sensitive context and landscape while remaining bold, theatrical and full of fantasy.
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