Designed by Carme Pinós and Enric Miralles, this project was the winning entry into a design competition for a cemetery at the small town of Igualada just outside Barcelona, Spain. I first came to know about Igualada Cemetery while in architecture school more than 15 years ago. The complexity of its forms and space were inspiring to me as a young architecture student and I was overjoyed to have the opportunity photograph it on a recent trip to Barcelona which included visits to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion and a number of projects by Antonio Gaudi.
Located just about an hour from Barcelona, the town of Igualada sits in a hilly agricultural and wine producing region. The design competition for a replacement for the old “Cemetery Vell” was held in 1984 with construction mostly completed on the Pinós & Miralles winning entry in 1994 when the cemetery was opened up for use. The project was quickly recognized as one of the most poetic Catalan architectural works of the 20th century.
The architects wrote about Igualada Cemetery as a “city of the dead”. A place for the visitor to begin to deal with the cycle of life and death and to understand the link between the past, the present and the future. The sinuous forms of the cemetery are carved into the Catalonian landscape with the main burial area fluidly descending into the hillside. The materials used in the project reflect the serenity of landscape around the cemetery with rough concrete, cor-ten steel and stone gabion walls working together to tie together spaces for prayer and reflection. The cemetery appears to have always existed at this site as if it is a natural extension of the landscape. Upon his death in 2000, Enric Miralles was buried here. His tomb has become a place of pilgrimage for architects and students with many of them scribbling little notes of appreciation on the concrete.
I was there in January on a blindingly bright sunny day. It was freezing cold with the landscape looking barren and foreboding. The strong sun cast sharp deep shadows creating dramatic contrasts across the sweeping forms of the cemetery. I was already familiar with the project having studied it through drawings and photographs. None of this prepared me for the experience of being there. The complexity of the project is not apparent until you actually walk through the spaces and experience the work.
In approaching the photography of this beautiful complex project, I thought back to the duality of life and death that Pinós and Miralles talked about. These ideas are explored through light and shadow, surface and texture and dark and light. This series of photographs starts in the unfinished chapel at the top of the hill before moving into the outdoor spaces with the burial plots. The chapel is a dark and brooding space for the living which gives way to the light exterior spaces of the dead upending the traditional relationship between life/ death and light/ dark.