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The Dominant Narrative

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Since I first saw a photo of it, this particular building has had a certain fascination for me. It’s called La Pyramide, by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Architectura. It’s on the French-Spanish border and dates from 1976. Here’s an historic scan.


Only relatively recently did I learn the building’s name and where it was, etc. I learned that the arresting perspective in the image above is, in fact, a false perspective. (The other name for the building, The Pyramid, should have alerted me.)

timthumb (1)I learned that the building and its accompanying landscape element were constructed alongside a highway


and a rather inglorious one at that. (Ref. Not All Photographs Lie) I also learned that the whole ensemble had fallen into disrepair and was looking rather neglected since it’s 1976 heyday. I’m disappointed that not much love was shown to the sides of either they pyramid or the building. It’s all about that one view that, by the looks of it, is seen only in photographs.


Client: Société des Autouroutes du Sud-Est de la FranceThe Taller de Arquitectura was commissioned by la Société des Autouroutes du Sud-Est de la France to build this monument on the Catalan highway border between Spain and France. It was not a defined and explicit commission, but a vague and ambitious idea, a challenge to broach new proposals and experiences. The monotony of endless miles of tar and concrete called for the humanizing of the Autouroutes du Sud-Est.
The Taller de Arquitectura enthusiastically accepted this project in light of the practical and theoretical studies dealing with problems of developing form on a larger scale.  Intervention outside of an urban context can have a decisive impact on a given landscape. It is necessary therefore to design in terms of the widest possible geographical scope.
The team realized first of all that the border location of the project was only incidental, anecdotal, simply a pretext to the realization of a masterpiece.
The highway was built to open communications between the two countries and for the passage of people. Catalonia has always been an area of exchange, of transit. Catalan culture has always been able to assimilate ideas and passing currents. With the vision of the Pyrenees as an integrating axis of the Catalan territories, the team concentrated its research on the form and design of the landscape. We wanted to animate and humanize the long strip of highway crossing over the Pyrenees, but the project, because of its magnitude, was not possible. Even when the project program was reduced, the new proposal for the Parque de la Marca Hispánica as a majestic elevated promenade, more that a kilometer in length was still too ambitious, and the Taller de Arquitectura finally submitted the design of the Pyramid as its definitive proposal.
The size and volume of the pyramid (its square base measures 100 meters and is 80 meters high) is accounted for by the amount of soil removed for the construction of the highway. Instead of disposing of the fill in the surrounding valleys, the Taller de Arquitectura proposed that the removed soil be transported to the site. This truncated pyramid with false perspectives and a classical French garden was the team’s response to build in the centre of the Pyrenees a work which would be integrated into the landscape yet remain recognizable as a built work which would resist comparison with nature.
The monument at the top of the pyramid is an homage to Catalonia, the four stripes being the motives of its shield and flag, it also symbolizes and materializes international cooperation and fraternity.
In case you were wondering …

in case you were wondering ...


  • I would imagine that from the standpoint of 1976, Bofill was making reference to the unfinished business of a free Catalonia which now, in 2013, is working its way inexorably to fruition. The symbolism is quite likely the Catalan flag held vertically with triangle and star at the top.