With a Ducados cigarette in his hand a and a smile on his face, Luis used to say that “you make a living out of the thing that you do second best”. Luis and I shared an office and made a living out of architecture. Many times in the years that we spent together I wondered what would it be that Luis knew how to do better than architecture. Our mutual respect kept me, for many years, from asking him what he considered that he did best. Today he is gone, and I will never be able to ask him. During these sad days, after doing a lot of thinking, I have come to the conclusion that what Luis did best was being a person. A PERSON with capital letters. A great human being whose virtues manifested in the different orders of life: in his family -with his wife, his daughters, his mother and brothers-, with his friends, in the things that he did for pleasure and in his professional life. These written words only intend to fix some memories, while still fresh. They only try to present a small portion of the person with whom I have been lucky to share a long part of my life. Few people count so many friends -so many people who loved him so much. His generous humanity became apparent in the joyful serenity of his friendship, in the respectful and friendly way in which he related to every single person who crossed his path. He was a great amateur pianist. He would laugh at his own limitations with the piano, and smiling once again he would quote Ortega y Gasset: “amateur is the best thing one can be”. Regardless of this difficulty, he practiced once and again, systematically and rigorously, trying to acquire a skill that is so hard to learn at our age. He was an amateur sailor too, he loved the sea even more than all the earthly concerns related to his dear city of Madrid. “The problem of Madrid is that it does not have the sea”, he said once while drawing the landscape of the Manzanares river as if it was the ocean. The love of the sea took him to Cadiz and to Zahara, where his dreams came true. There, he built his refuge and enjoyed its peace away from the noise of the world with his wife Carmen and his family. There too, he sailed with his brother Vicente, challenging the wind and the waves of the brave ocean beyond the cape of Trafalgar. He was also a great disciple, humble and capable. He was always quick to acknowledge everything that he had learnt from his masters Rafael Moneo and Juan Navarro Baldeweg, but he was also able to enlarge the field of vision and to reconsider what had been learnt from them under a new light. He was a great professor too, always generous with his students. He tried to always develop his teaching activity with the greatest intensity possible, because for him each student had to get all the time that he needed, “one, two, three hours, whatever is necessary”. He always treated his students as equals and made them feel special without refraining from being absolutely sincere in his accurate and stimulating criticisms. The same criticism that he left in writing in innumerable articles and essays on architecture, art and life. He was always surrounded by books. Many times I have heard him say that he would have liked to be a writer, and he truly was one, he was a great writer with the soul of a poet. Many years ago, in the presentation of a project in Saldaña, a journalist of a local newspaper referred to him as “the poet architect”. Many times since then we used to joke about his ‘poet condition’, and Luis laughed… Laughter and sense of humour were part of his life. Luis laughed with everything and everyone, but never at anything or anyone. He loved life and the humour that spilled from its paradoxes, from the absurd and the incomprehensible in it. Sometimes with a stormy laughter, or others with a cunning smile, he always gathered strength in the face of trouble. He used to say that “a problem is above all an opportunity” and he liked to exploit the creative potential of constraints. When he confronted a problem he always tried to solve it before having all the information, and smiling he would recall what his father used to tell him as a child “Luis, you always try to find the solution before reading the formulation”. Because what Luis enjoyed was laying out the playground, his own playground and his own rules of the game, in order to be able to take the problems and constraints to his own turf, where everything was possible. He was also a great traveller; his infinite curiosity pushed him to see “stronger and faster”, like the romantic poets with whom he felt at home. For him to travel was to know, to discover, to “render visible the invisible”… Many travels we shared, and in those travels Luis turned a great talker, both optimistic and creative. For Luis conversation was a way of knowing, and for this reason he claimed that his method of teaching and practising followed a “conversational model”. There were moments too, during those travels, for a long conversation before a good bottle of wine, symbol of life and joy. In those moments he would say, “Emilio, you choose the wine and will I drink it”… And then came that intimate conversation, on friends and family, always with his people in mind. And also in those moments his best ideas would show, those “ideas that are independent from form”, like he used to say in reference to the words of Emilio Lledó in “The frame for beauty and the desert of architecture”. And he would also speak about literature, about the Workshop of Potential Literature, about George Perec, Borges, García Lorca… Last week, talking about literature before his sad departure, he shared his obssesion with the curious biography with which an otherwise expendable writer presented himself: “Maurice Blanchot, born in 1907, novelist and critic, his life is devoted to literature and the silence that belongs to it”… And he would say to me once and again -searching for an answer that I did not have- “Emilio, the silence that belongs to it… What does Blanchot mean by the silence that belongs to it?”… Because Luis loved the silence, it felt his own, and he thought that silence allowed him to talk about poetry… And then he would start to talk about Paul Valery, for whom poetry is “an oscillation between sense and sound”. There was also a poem by Pessoa that he liked to recite, either among friends or in the middle of a conference: “The poet is a pretender / who pretends so completely / that he even pretends / the pain he really feels”… The pain that we feel with his absence. Luis liked to talk about time too, whether regarding literature, or architecture, or painting, or wine… For Luis the essence of life was transformation, and that perennial transformation could only be explained through the passage of time. But he always said that time was difficult to control, to delimit, and with this in mind he would quote San Agustín, “What is time? If nobody asks me, then I know; but if I want to explain it to someone, then I do not know anymore”. A few hours before leaving us in this world, talking about Enric Miralles, our friend who left us eleven years ago, he said something enigmatic and somehow premonitory: “In the last thirty years of my professional career -that means all of it- I do not remember seeing anything more striking than the work of Enric Miralles. What a delicious and happy coincidence… How is it possible to feel the most shaken by an architecture that has been considered to be the most personal and inscrutable? The only answer is to think that Enric’s work is the same as everyone else’s. Or at least that his preoccupations are the same as ours. As Josep Plá used to say, “every artist plagiarizes us”. Plá was a guy able to say that a person “spoke with capital letters” or to define someone as “the type of person who seemed smaller in the close distance than from afar”. Nevertheless, and this is the interesting part, Enric has plagiarized us “before” we had the feeling in which we recognize ourselves. I am starting to think that space is not one of our preoccupations in life. Just time, that spills and slips through our fingers when we try to catch it.” Luis’ time slipped through his fingers when he was trying to catch it… It slipped away too soon. And now we are here alone, without Luis, his orphans.
This text is a transcription of the words that Emilio Tuñón spoke during a ceremony held in honour of Luis M. Mansilla, on Saturday February 25 of 2012, in the cemetery of La Paz, Madrid.