Remembering Luis Moreno Mansilla

Apr 03, 2012
Luis Moreno Mansilla

Luis Moreno Mansilla was among the best, if not the best of architects to have passed through the office. His loss leaves behind a valuable body of work now, unfortunately, interrupted. The office must now adjust, but we must trust that our mission will not change. The nuances of Luis’s complex, subtle, and sensitive personality made his contribution as definitive as unpredictable. We will certainly feel his absence.

My legs were shaking upon hearing the news of Luis’s passing on Wednesday. Seeking proximity in his words, my trembling turned to shock at seeing what he wrote in the dedication of his thesis, Apuntes de viaje al interior del tiempo (Travel notes to the interior of time), published by the Caja de Arquitectos: “To my grandfather Luis, optician, among whose optical devices I grew. He died as everyone would like to die, suddenly, in his sleep, the night before he was to leave for Rome, and I dedicate the genesis of this thesis to him. The day before his death, he gave me his old original 1870 Baedeker´s guide books for Italy, which I brought with me.”

Though his words were so premonitory, there is something in them that is also comforting today. Accompanying this dedication, a constellation of initials fills another page: E.T., by Emilio Tuñón, C.P., by his wife Carmen Pinart, Juan Navarro Baldeweg, Enric Miralles, Peter Feduchi, Alvaro Soto, and my own, Rafael Moneo. The inclusion of a dedication shows Luis’s sensitivity. His thesis was conceived out of a trip to Sweden that was later extended to Rome. None of Luis’s drawings were included in print, but the thesis is replete with drawings by others that precisely describe his understanding of architecture, and through these we feel Luis’s presence.

Luis found enjoyment in what architecture could provide; his admiration for his surroundings translated to a sophisticated architectural tone. Despite the maturity of his work, he never lost his youthfulness and grace. Luis was very attentive to the work of his wife, the painter Carmen Pinart, with whom he shared a common sensibility. He found joy in his daughters; we could say that he had a full life. But we could also say that he would have liked to accomplish much more for himself and others. The diversions of everyday life made for seeing each other less in recent years, and Luis’s unexpected passing is a rude awakening for me to the mismanagement of our time. I regret not being able to share with him a visit to the Atrio Hotel in Cáceres, and I would have liked to show him the work we are developing in La Mejorada.

I remember Luis drawing La Previsión Española building, the airport of Seville, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation, and so many others. He lived with us for four months in Cambridge. Then, in the nineties, his coming of age and his first commissions launched his independent career with Emilio Tuñón, a partnership of common sensibility between two people each with distinct qualities. Emilio Tuñón has great talent as an architect; Luis had the capacity to think through all that architecture could express. The work that came out of this collaboration is valued in Spain and across the world. Mansilla + Tuñón’s Contemporary Art Museum of Castilla and Leon (MUSAC) expanded the vision of what the new figurative idea of the nineties was meant to be: unattached to structural or formal issues, but indebted to the new digital culture.

Two weeks ago the Glasgow School of Art asked me to support the appointment of Tuñón and Mansilla as honorary professors. I closed the recommendation letter by saying it would be difficult to find two candidates of comparable merit. Through friendship and osmosis, some of the virtues of Luis are already now in Emilio. And though the sad loss inevitably marks a “before” and “after,” it would be a great thing if the work of the studio could continue without rupture.

-J. Rafael Moneo


José Rafael Moneo is the first Josep Lluis Sert Professor of Architecture. He was chair of the Department of Architecture from 1985 until 1990 and teaches the lecture courses On Contemporary Architecture and Design Theories in Architecture. Before joining the Graduate School of Design, Moneo was a fellow at the Spanish Academy in Rome and taught in Barcelona and Madrid.

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