Concrete Quarterly

Lasting impression


I often try to visit buildings by foot or bicycle so I can understand the context. When I was at university I cycled up to Montjuïc in Barcelona to see the Joan Miró Foundation (1) by Josep Lluís Sert (1975). It made an immediate impression on me.

It has this very heroic presence on the hill, with these clear Corbusian influences and primary geometries. From certain viewpoints, it is almost fortress-like. Yet it is an incredibly welcoming and humane place to visit. Single and double-height volumes intersperse with terraces, so you flow from inside to outside. It has an almost domestic quality – there’s something about the balance of the concrete, terracotta tiles, timber furniture, and the artworks as well, that all feels extremely harmonious.

This was the second collaboration between Sert and Miró, following the artist’s studio (2) in Palma, Mallorca (1956). You see a number of the same themes here: again, it has these heroic, primary forms, but when you’re up close the concrete is very delicately boardmarked and handcrafted, and you suddenly relate to the building in a much more intimate way, understanding the endeavour that’s gone into it. The expressive rooflights, which are subtly arced and almost scoop light into the gallery spaces, were a big influence when we were doing the Weston Visitor Centre (2018). With both of the Miró buildings, concrete brings a sense of personality but stays in the background so the artwork has its own presence.

Alvaro Siza’s Leça swimming pool complex (3) (1966) is another building I cycled to, north from Porto along the progressively wild Atlantic coast. It could easily have felt like a brutal response to the coastline, but it’s such a subtle project. Tonally the materials chime so strongly with the rock formations.

I don’t know how much was intentional, but the way that the concrete, copper and timber have all weathered, they don’t try to compete – they are just in conversation with a stunning landscape.

Fergus Feilden is a director at Feilden Fowles Architects