Architecture That Makes People Happy

Benedetta Tagliabue is a modest architect who takes an approach that harmonizes with the environment and the world without trying to alter the landscape too much. she defines good architecture as architecture that makes people feel good and makes them happy.

Italian architect Benedetta Tagliabue has put her signature on important projects like the Scottish Parliament Building, HafenCity Hamburg, Santa Caterina market, and the Spanish Pavilion at Expo Shanghai 2010. In Istanbul recently, she replied to our questions.

Many of your projects are about transforming industrial areas outside the city into urban centers. Is this a coincidence or a deliberate choice?
Rehabilitation projects are under way all over the world, perhaps a little more even in Europe since Europe is short on space. Also, in the last 50 years industrial sites have taken over almost all the living space in our cities, so it needs to be reincorporated back into life now. Take HafenCity Hamburg, for example; it isn’t just port workers there any more but people going to work as well. Even sunbathers… Many former factories are being socialized by converting them into museums.

Like Tate Modern, Santralistanbul and Istanbul Modern. Industrial plants turned museums. Is this a trend then?
Yes, it’s a trend. There is a very unusual and special example of it in Barcelona: Santa Caterina Market. Barcelona used to be a city with a closed urban texture. But this project, the rehabilitation of a large public space that took ten years, opened it up to the outside world. It taught us - me and my late husband, that is - a lot. First we tried to understand the narrow streets. Then we learned how we had to proceed in an historic venue. Starting from the realization that history is in a constant flux, we wanted to create a space that urban people would be happy to use, so we rebuilt the market, the roof in particular. With the help of Spanish ceramicists, we created a fantastic roof that can be seen from all over the city. It’s a pleasant shopping center and commercial venue now. A powerful bond was also forged between us and Santa Caterina. The project inspired many things in our lives right down to the names of our children. My daughter’s name is Caterina.

What projects do you have in hand at the moment?
There is no end of projects. We have two offices, one in Barcelona and one in Shanghai. We are also building a tower in Hong Kong these days, a somewhat proud tower… And a university in one of Shanghai’s new residential areas but not cut off from the city. We are building a museum for a Chinese painter too. In Spain we are reorganizing a former cloth factory as a museum. We have office buildings in Milan, residences in Madrid. But recently I’ve been occupied mainly with HafenCity Hamburg in Germany.

Do you have any particular sine qua non’s?
There is one thing I always try to do. I try to make the project harmonize with itself and with the surroundings. Without any pushing or shoving… As modest as possible, in harmony with the environment and the world, not altering or playing too much with the landscape. I avoid any solution that might dominate or overwhelm.

Changing things is sometimes good, but only if it is done quietly, without any noise or shouting… Architects can’t save the world, but friendly architecture can ensure that people live a happier, more expansive and more civilized life. Architects should try, through small interventions, to give people better spaces to live and work in. Good architecture is architecture that makes people happier than they used to be and makes them feel good about themselves.

What are your forecasts for the future?
Houses are going to be smaller in the future because the world is getting crowded and resources are being depleted. We are going to have to live in smaller houses. There won’t be any more enormous estates. But there are going to be more public areas. And that is a good thing, because more social sharing means less social conflict.

Barselona / Barcelona
Classy and mad. And fabulous because it is both at once. A city dedicated to people. People go for long walks. At the seaside, in the parks. The city seems to exist so people can walk.

Mysterious and wonderful. Small but huge. Has a powerful history that nevertheless does not fly in your face. Waits unobtrusively to be discovered.

Defies description. As a friend of mine says, Venice makes intelligent people look stupid… if they try to describe it.  More like a person than a city.

Capital of a great empire. Harbors a lot of different people within it and is therefore very modern. In fact, is one of the world’s most modern cities for that reason.

New York
A city that has everything you can imagine, where all dreams come true. A city that has seen everything. When a person goes there he says, Okay, now I get it.

City of refinement. The refinement of existence… City of social graces. City of the good life as well as of great restaurants, theater and opera.

The Spanish-Italian Artisan Soul

Born in Milan, Benedetta Tagliabue graduated from the University of Venice in 1989. In 1991 she became a partner in the studio of Enric Miralles, whom she also married. Tagliabue, who has built several award-winning buildings around the world, became head of Miralles-Tagliabue-EMBT following her husband’s untimely death. She has worked on many important projects, among them HafenCity Hamburg public space, the Expo Shanghai 2010 Spanish Pavilion, Hamburg Music School and the Scottish Parliament Building. Perpetuating the tradition of the architecture studio with Spanish-Italian artisan soul, Tagliabue has earned a RIBA International Fellowship for her contributions to architecture.