William JR Curtis pays tribute to the renowned Spanish architect
The abrupt and unexpected death of Luis Moreno Mansilla leaves a void in Spanish architecture. All who knew him will remember his piercing intelligence, his impish sense of humour and his humility, a combination which made him an endearing colleague and a great teacher.
Luis was an artist in the art of friendship who considered the other person’s point of view, often replying with an enigma.
In his architecture, he combined intellectual rigour with sparks of creative insight which made everything seem deceptively simple. He was always in search of the right idea for each scheme, and often found inspiration in unexpected places.
Luis enjoyed rules in order to transgress them. He was deeply serious but saw the value of play. These attitudes are sensed in the works achieved by him in partnership with Emilio Tuñón from 1992 onwards, after both of them left the Moneo studio.
Some of these buildings will go down in history as major contributions to the discipline − one thinks for example of the MUSAC in León (2001-4) with its zigzag plan of unfolding exhibition spaces which rightly won the Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture in 2007.
Others, less spectacular, such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Castellón (1996-2001) with its rigorous sense of order and restrained civic stance, will also deserve a place. The work of Mansilla + Tuñón combines clarity of thought with spatial richness, modern techniques of construction with craft, individual expression with a sense of historical continuity.
Taking into account human use, context and construction, they have achieved architectural poetry through the orchestration of materials and light. In an era of facile recipes and transient dogmas, Luis the teacher will be remembered by his students both in Spain and abroad for his Socratic method which gradually revealed possibilities to each student, while also hinting at his own creative search.
When I heard the shocking news I had a flashback to all the occasions we had met, for example driving across the vast spaces of Castile-León to see the MUSAC almost completed, or admiring Aalto’s own house in Helsinki with Luis’s wife, Carmen Pinart the painter, and with Emilio his partner: always the same curiosity about everything from door handles to the architect’s philosophical position, always the same