Yelena Remizova

Architecture as Theatre or Theatre of "Classical" Architecture by Ricardo Bofill

I had the good fortune to be somewhere between "normal" and broken consciousness. Such bifurcation allowed me to investigate shadow zones of consciousness, being simultaneously both actor and spectator. As Fellini has told, the creativity occurs in the periods between crises, which force to go further and to find other problems ".

Ricardo Bofill. Spaces for life, (1, p. 13).


Life and its spatial environment are varied and imperceptible. Drama action and scenic space - quintessence of life, concentrate that has been lead up to logic perfection, visually occurred to us in theatrical representation. Sightness, inherent to theatre, in not of a smaller degree characterises also architecture, especially when the architect wants to achieve long - lasting action in time and space. In classical architecture sightness was embodied in the ensembles created specially for ceremonial and "dramatised" actions. Acropolis in Athens intended for realisation of celebratory processions with gift to the antique gods – Athena, Poseidon, and Nikka Apteros. Ancient roman forums were created as a place of public festivals in honour of military and political victories of the emperors August, Caesar, Traianus. Vatican and square in front of the St. Piter's cathedral in Rome is the place of religious pilgrim confluence. Versailles, Louvre, the square of Senate in St. Petersburg, Petrodvorets, Dzerginsky square in Kharkov. The effect of sightness is present at all these and other numerous representative ensembles. The idea of picturesque of architecture and organised of action, occurring in it, creates that integrity, to which the architects of so-called classical epoch aspired.

Whether can this theme live in modern architecture aspiring to dis-structuring all and everything? Such works of art as the «Square of Italy» by Charles Moore, ensemble of buildings for Disneyland by Michael Graves, inhabited complexes «Lake's Arches» in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, «Abraxas» in Marne-la-Vallee in Paris and «Antigona» in Montpellier by Ricardo Bofill will be the proof of immortality of theatrical and scenician idea even at the end of superanalytical ??-th century.

Stage and script, space and action – the concepts, indissolubly connected in their sense and origin, in the end of ??-th century have appeared divided, belonging to different areas of art creativity. Architecture and dramatic art, as two spheres of creativity, exist independently and irrespectively from each other. However by deeper consideration it is found out, that the theatrical and architectural ideas interact, penetrate from one area into another, mutually complement and develop each other. Also there are no precise borders and distinctions in rising their sense. Creativity of Bofill and his studio "Talier de Architecture" confirms this.

Ricardo Bofill repeatedly addresses to a theme of theatre. Inhabited complexes «Green semicircle» in Cergy-Pontoise, «Baroque ladders» both «Abraxas» in Paris and «Antigona» in Montpellier are bright illustrations to it. All European experience of theatrical and visual designing appears in them.

The attitude of Bofill to classics I would name as passion. This is a passionate desire to express himself already by known concepts and expressions of classical architectural language. Bofill asserts: «To be the classicist after the Modernism is means inevitably to be reactionary. … The inspiration suggested by classics, does not mean technological archaic, but contrary, novelty and connection of the contents and form, work above architectural language and search of conditions that give it the greatest force» (1, p. 75).

In spite of the fact that Bofill is often referred to postmodernists, he criticises the approach, the mode of postmodernist work. He writes: «It is possible at once to understand that distance, which separates me from the currents arisen in 70-th years and which have received the name postmodernism. In front of face of wreck of avant-garde the artists have defended the right on connection with the past, on use of the most different traditions, on introduction in the products of all former cultural heritage. But the idea has stopped on that. A little who from them has found any logic justifying a combination of all these elements. Post-Modernism was satisfied with imposition, collage and appearance» (1, p. 94-95). Borrowing of «another's» means of art for Bofill is only a way to penetrate into another's logic, to understand a different way of thinking. The own foreman work builds on a principle of polyphonic music (singing of many voices). It is more precisely possible to tell that it is a polybroad gully, i.e. attraction and collision of different logic, frequently ancient alongside with modern.

Bofill describes his own method of creativity. Revealing priorities, he does an emphasis on the reference to cultural memory and its connection with modern art and technical finds: «All traditional laws, on which I cite on, do not create obstacles for creativity at all, and on the contrary are the support and springboard for it. I find out them on all depth of a history of architecture, I mix the various dictionaries and even I can without any difficulties bring to any system in the certain contradictions, i.e. to deform it. I hate that is too regular, too perfect. I like to use vegetation, ruins, false symmetry, which breaks marble-cold pretentiousness of too classical building. If I risk today, that is only because I believe, that I managed to develop own system strong adhered to memory and to history, which allows me to apply some of modern achievement» (1, p. 95, 99).

All history, and not only architectural, appears in front of Bofill as a theatrical show. Here maestro approaches very close to ideas of ??? century especially brightly shown in architectural imaginations of Dg. Piranesi. Already then giving a meaning to an ancient antiquity carried out the expression of new architectural-spatial ideas. The acquaintance with the ancient roman ruined buildings inspired Piranesi and other foremen on creation grandiose, frequently fantastic graphic pictures illusory representing urban space as at the theatre. Bofill is certainly familiar with these works and a scale of his complexes is the same to scales of projects of Dg. Piranesi, Boulle and Cl. N. Ledoux.

Ricardo Bofill himself prompts us the addresses and does not hide the reference to his favourite foremen, from whom he borrows not so much details, how many spirit and atmosphere of their creativity. He writes: «In Marne-la-Vallee, for example, … I would like very much to make the accent on the references, contained in the building. More or less hidden hints on a history of architecture are copied therefore deliberately… I has applied in Marne partitioning of the facade in a French manner, i.e. is exact the same as was made by Gabriel at the square of the Consent. In the top part the line of columns forms some kind of hung frieze. Such use of columns at certain height from ground reminds the architect-revolutionary Ledoux, which left in Paris some appreciable buildings. Other observers will find here and there tribute of respect to Gaudy. But all these references and borrowings merge in more general process, are supported by archetype of theatre and arch, forming the special geometrical composition» (1, p. 95).

In the elements of complex - the theatre, the arch and the palace - a key lays to solution of historical prototypes of Bofill. First of all it is the antique theatre and its interpretations at the Olympico theatre in Vicenza by Andrea Palladio, and also at the theatre in Besancon by Cloud Nikola Ledoux. We undertake to assert, that if Palladio was the first who has created illusion of city on a stage, and Ledoux has reached the unity of scenic space with auditorium, then Bofill has created the precedent to make a theatrelisation of the life. Let us try to have a look after this evolution.

The idea of interrelation of urban space and theatrical action was born very long ago. Already in Renaissance epoch passionate love of the Italians to antique culture and aspiration to revive an antique drama have served as an occasion for creation of new spatial organisation of a theatre.

It is known, that antique theatres, both Greek and Roman, were open. The environmental natural atmosphere played a considerable role in the most theatrical action. Palladio has caught this feature of antique drama art and architecture and has created his own interpretation of this theme.

The innovation of Palladio's conception is that he includes an external urban environment in closed space of the theatrical hall. He aspires to transform internal space of the theatrical hall into urban system of streets and areas merging on his plan in united space. This effect is reached by plastic unite of all spatial elements of the composition and in complex interaction of different-scaled orders so beloved by Palladio. The streets formed by set of various architectural facades of the Italian houses are flown down to a stage designed as a facade of public building with the large solemn arch in the middle. Around of the formed square-stage is the oval amphitheatre surrounded by smart columns with numerous statues in niches and on attic. Even the ceiling becomes covered by the image of the sky with clouds, floating on it. All this creates impression of mutual reflection of stage and hall, and it becomes already not clear what is more important - stage or auditorium, actors or spectators, played drama or real life. Both in Mobius loop there is no beginning and end, but there is only continuous movement, and so at Olimpico theatre the dialogue of antiquity and modernity is reached not only by the game of actors reviving antique drama art, but also by mutual reflection of ancient architecture in modern to Renaissance plastic realising of space. Playing with different-scaled orders composed in some levels a little bit projecting from the wall or almost merging with it, Palladio reaches the effect of dimension of the portal's plane. And, breaching traditionally unpermeble back wall by five apertures and placing behind it volumetric scenery, representing streets which are go away in perspective, Palladio achieves complete visual illusion of depth. So there appears a dialogue between plane and space, between theatre and architecture, life and its drama image, between real city and its scenic reflection. As in a curve mirror the life reflects in drama and comedy, so the stage is only symbol, mark of city or house, but not its reality. It is not and can not be a complete and literal conformity between them.

In the end of ?VIII century Cloud Nikola Ledoux in his project of Besancon's theatre makes the next step in development of understanding of interrelation of real life and its drama representation, of their reflection in spatial organisation of auditorium and stage. The representation about antique unity of a stage and amphitheatre not simply idealises, as it could be expected from classicism, but actively develops and transforms.

Already in the graphic sketch representing «a pupil of an eye, in which the amphitheatre is reflecting», Ledoux declares creation of such spatial organisation of a hall, in which each spectator equally well sees a stage. Such requirement transforms a spectator hall. Stalls are surrounded by the several vertically displaced levels of boxes and higher - by semicircular amphitheatre and is finished solemn row of columns, supporting the ceiling and separating only the gallery from the basic space of the hall. Besides this Ledoux finally destroys a wall between proscenium and stage, transforming it in colossal triumphal arch, in which aperture will be theatrical action. The stage gets high-grade depth and volume, in which Ledoux places perspective scenery representing an interior of ancient Roman public building.

What has taken place after all?

The space of the stage has merged with space of the hall. Decoration of the hall has reflected classical ideal. Ancient Roman drama is played at the French theatre.

Ricardo Bofill has made the following step in this process of merging of life, theatre and architecture. In his buildings the life appears realised as theatrical action.

In the conversation with French actor Christian Baltauss we felt unexpected turn of perception, which connects the occurrences staying far in time and space. He says: «Architecture of Bofill is very theatrical. I was in Montpellier. In an inhabited complex «Antigona» I felt, that I am in the Roman Empire, in a place representing force and power of imperial authority. The sensation of theatre does not leave you and in Marne-la-Vallee too. You feel yourself as the involuntary actors in its space. After Russian revolution it was built many large office buildings like the Kharkov University and Gosprom (office of state industry). In Bofill's architecture there is the same way of aesthetics. The man should feel himself in it very small. Why not?»

The European architecture is through penetrated by reminiscence of ancient Rome and for the French architecture the fact of making the theatrical surroundings is not a novelty, but the occurrence in modern inhabited complex «Arena Picasso» greatness atmosphere of Ancient Rome, sensation of antique spirit in modern life is unexpected. Here Bofill worked as the stage-director creating illusion of a reality of theatrical action.

The people, living in these houses, involuntarily become the working persons of Bofill's performance. They live in space of the stage and amphitheatre, observe from windows of their apartments as the people pass through the majestic arch and move in huge space of the courtyard. Their life at will of the architect becomes an element of unwritten performance.

The theatre is a show and the spectator comes in theatre not only to see the play, but also to feel new spatial understanding of the world. The architect creates this space and places the people in it, organising their life as the director organises game of the actors in space of stage. The known theatrical artist Uriy Annenkov in his memoirs wrote, that such great stage-directors as K. Stanislavsky, V. Meierhold, M. Reingardt and G. Crag by their «innovative search excellently proved, that the spoken element, (that is - text of the play), is no more than one of parts (and not necessarily main) of theatrical performance.

The spectator is called a «spectator» just because he comes to the theatre not only to attend a play, but also to see it, to observe its scenic transformation into action, in the entertainment forms. Otherwise he would only to go listen to public reading of the play and would turn into a «listener». Or being satisfied by reading of the play in the book, would become a «reader»" (2, p. 236).

From the architectural point of view it is interesting that in the beginning of ??-th century the plot of the play has got a new spatial embodiment. The artist-director began to search for the new forms of materialisation of action in scenic organisation of the form and space. Here again architecture has come to aid him.

In this change of understanding of theatrical producing the architect had also his own interest. You see the architecture in Russia after I world war and, especially, after Great October Revolution was declarated and dramatised in maximum degree. It was necessary not only to show the innovative forms, but also to create a show, frequently visible model, and mirage of the future. Which way, as not by theatrical means, was it possible to achieve, especially in hungry and cold Russia? The theatre came out on streets. The mounting of demonstrations, meetings, holidays was created by the new artists-decorators and stage-producers. On the other hand, architecture, having not enough of chances to be realised owing to absence of means, becomes poster, shouting about itself, aspiring to capture all and all. To it was poorly eparchy. It wanted to organise life, to influence on the people, their habits and image of behaviour. And it succeeded in it, at least in the Soviet Union. The house-communes, clubs, theatres of mass action, Palaces of Labour and Soviets - all these are new forms of mutual penetration of architecture and theatre. The city has turned to a huge stage, on which the life began to develop by the dramatic scenario.

Ricardo Bofill has felt in these searches and opening of the Soviet architecture a probable way of the further development of the Post-Modernist's language. He had seen a metaphorical community of ideas Palladio and Piranesy, Boulle and Ledoux, Russian avant-guard and Stalin's Empire style. Huge scale of futuristic plans of French classicists and Russian avant-gurdists had found their embodiment in ensembles of Bofill's inhabited complexes. Now we find an expression of their ideas at a new aesthetic and composite level.

Already in Stalin's Empire style we observed as historical reminiscences were played on the squares and streets of capitals of the Soviet republics. The Riding-school square and Gorky street in Moscow, Kreshatik street in Kiev, ensembles of governmental buildings on the central squares of Minsk, Yerevan, Leningrad, Tbilisi, Dushanbe etc. Each building, everyone portal played the role in this grandiose performance. Already here historical models were involved as marks and symbols of new architectural language. We still should decipher the language of art and architecture of 30-50-th years of ??-th century, so-called Art Deco, but it is already now become clear, that Post-Modernism in it's aspiration to develop it's art language addresses to idea of dialogue with the historical past, which was born long before, and uses for this the means of stage producing and dramatic art.

It is necessary to note that, if Soviet constructivists and formalists seriously searched for untimely truth, postmodernists and Bofill contrariwise do not try at all to assert the aesthetic laws, but only demonstrate possible ways of evolution of architecture. They at all are not interested by truth in the first instance. They do not search for norms and do not admit them. Each of them and in each new object offers the most various approaches. However all of them demonstrate the interested attitude to the past, both far and nearest. And this past gives them ground for owns development and development of modern architectural language.



1. Bofill Ricardo. Spaces for life. M., 1993.

2. Annenkov Y. A diary of my meetings. A cycle of tragedies.

*The author of article brings the deep gratitude to Christian Baltauss and ?arl-Heinz Pfleging for the photo-materials given by them for publication.



1 - Ricardo Bofill and "Tallier de Architecture". "Palace" and "Arch" in the inhabited complex «Space of Abraxas» in Marne-la-Vallee in Paris. 1978 – 1983.

2 – Ricardo Bofill and "Tallier de Architecture". "Abraxas" in Marne-la-Vallee in Paris. In "Arch". Photo by ?Karl-Heinz Pfleging.

3 - S. Serafimov, M. Felger, S. Kravetc. The perspective view across the thoroughfare of the building "Gosprom" (State Industry Building) in Kharkov. 1925 – 1928. Photo by I. Popov.

4, 5, 6, 7 – Andrea Palladio. The theatre Olympico in Vicenza. 1580. The perspective portal, the interior of hall, the elevation and the plan.

8 - Ricardo Bofill and "Tallier de Architecture". "Theatre" in the inhabited complex «Space of Abraxas» in Marne-la-Vallee in Paris. 1978 – 1983.

9, 10,11, 12, 13 – Cloud Nikola Ledoux. The theatre in Besancon. 1778 – 1780. Rough drawing to the project of the theatre, the facade, the interior of the stage, two elevations.

14 - Ricardo Bofill and "Tallier de Architecture". Rough drawing to the project of the inhabited complex "Baroque stairs" in Paris. 1979 – 1985.

15, 16, 17 - Ricardo Bofill and "Tallier de Architecture". "Theatre" and "Palace" in inhabited complex «Space of Abraxas» in Marne-la-Vallee in Paris. 1978 – 1983. Photos by ?arl-Heinz Pfleging.

18, 19 - S. Serafimov, M. Felger, S. Kravetc. View of the building "Gosprom"(State Industry Building) in Kharkov. 1925 – 1928. Photo by I. Popov.

20 - Ricardo Bofill and "Tallier de Architecture". Inhabited complex «Space of Abraxas» in Marne-la-Vallee in Paris. 1978 – 1983.

21 - Andrea Palladio. Theatre Olympico in Vicenza. 1580. Perspective of the portal.

22 - Piranesi. Fantasy on the antique theme "The gallery of statues". The middle of 18-th century.

23, 24 - Ricardo Bofill and "Tallier de Architecture". The complex "Antigona" in Montpellier, France. 1986 – 1987. General plan and view of the square "Golden section".

   Positionen Positions Positii