Bauwelt 31, October 15, 1993, page 2094.

"It seems to me that not making architecture is one way of making it."                                          

The influence of a great architect can be measured not so much by the quantity of imitators he inspires as by his capacity to open new doors, to ask new questions, to become, for his contemporaries, students and successors, an essential point of reference in their own investigations. This is at least the case of the Spanish modernist Alejandro de la Sota, who will be 80 years old this October 20th.

For the extraordinary present generation of Spanish architects, the work of De la Sota is not so much a model as the riddle around which much of their own work revolves. The enigmatic minimalism of Albert Viaplana & Helio Piñón, the restrained elegance of Esteve Bonell, Jordi Garcés & Enric Soria, Pep Llinás, Mariano Bayón, or Carlos Puente & Victor Lopez Cotelo, the experimental lyricism of Manuel Gallego or Juan Navarro, all would be unthinkable without the example of Alejandro de la Sota before them. With a handful of others, including F.J. Sáenz de Oiza and the late J.A. Coderch, De la Sota kept the modern tradition alive in Spain after the Civil War, with the surprising result that Spain today is closer to the sources and spirit of the modern movement than any other European country.

Perhaps the secret of De la Sota's particular blend of functionalism and tectonic honesty lies in the fact that he studied mathematics before graduating from the Madrid School of Architecture in 1941. It is with the elegant reductive rigor of a mathematical proof that he designs. "Clarity! And light, more light!": this is his idea of representational gestures in an architecture which aspires to be nothing more than "a cube that works".

His most famous building, for the Civil Government in Tarragona (1954-57), applies this mathematical elegance to an expressive cascade of balconies carved out of the marble cube of the massing. In the Maravillas School Gymnasium (Madrid, 1961) the expression is purely tectonic, in the steel trusses which cradle classrooms over the gymnasium floor. The architect's hand seems to disappear entirely in his late works, such as the León Post Office (1981), with its rigorous application of Robertson metal panel cladding inside and out. Here, in a fascinating game of absence and presence, a technique which seems totally transparent becomes totally opaque.

De la Sota's native province of Galicia is a land of mists and mystery, where appearances can be deceiving. Perhaps some of the more elusive and oracular qualities of his work reflect these origins. But at the same time, the apparently simple dignity of his work, its sober, dry playfulness, is unmistakably Spanish in character: we think of the paintings of Velázquez, Felipe II's Escorial, or even contemporary artists such as Jorge Oteiza and Luis Buñuel. De la Sota's tectonic metaphysics is often compared to that of Mies van der Rohe, but this similarity also reveals his differences: a spirituality closer to the brilliant light and shadows of the desert than the refracted light of the forest, closer to the dense clarity of stone than the weightless transcendence of glass and steel.