Willy Müller: “The major challenge has been to join different sectors in a single venue”

Interview with Willy Müller, Mercabarna-flor architect

9th September 2008

How do you feel, now that you’re seeing Mercabarna-flor in operation? 
I look back on the time spent since we first started to design it... on everything that has happened to me during this time both personally and professionally. Mercabarna-flor has been one of the richest, most intense experiences of my life.

Why is that?
Basically because it’s been a long process. We’ve worked on different market projects, on different sites... And then there has been the anxiousness of a sector that badly wanted a new market. This situation put a special pressure on everyone involved. That’s why it’s been so intense.

Where did you draw inspiration when designing Mercabarna-flor?
On a trip to Brazil I visited the mausoleum of one of the country’s former presidents. It was a building shaped like a broken pyramid. That made me consider the possibility of making an architectural structure with a magnificent roof: one that would blend into the wall. Or with a wall impossible to discern from the roof. I had one idea clear right from the start and I continue to defend it today: I wanted to create a logistics centre where the roof would have a special appeal.

Let’s pretend I can’t see the roof. How would you describe it to me?
I like to describe it as a shell, in the most organic sense. In other words, underneath the shell there’s something that moves - in this case, the activity generated by the market. I hope that in the end this roof becomes a landmark and that it also comes to represent market activity.

You mean that all those people who commute along the Castelldefels road will be able to identify Mercabarna-flor at a glance!
The fact is that working on a building located in the city’s outskirts gives you enormous freedom. It’s a privileged setting, brimming with opportunities, with no design dictates. For this reason I believe that filling the spaces that surround the city with box-shaped industrial warehouses, opaque buildings devoid of content, is a pity. The landscape is crying out for buildings that look innovative and Mercabarna-flor fits the bill.

What are the main obstacles you’ve had to surmount in seeing this project through?
Really, Mercabarna-flor is deceptively simple. When one thinks about a plant and flower market, one visualises a more or less nice-looking building where flowers are marketed. But in the case of Mercabarna-flor, complexity arises because we’ve designed a unique venue.

Unique in what sense?
In the last few years, we’ve visited different markets all around the world to learn about other similar experiences. And in none of them did we find flowers, plants and accessories in the same venue. As a rule they tended to be in separate centres. By contrast, in Mercabarna-flor enormous effort has been made to group together all these sectors within one architectural structure. This has been the major challenge posed by this market.

I suppose that unifying the needs of the different businesses that work in the Market and sell different products can’t have been easy... 
The relationship with the business owners of the Market hasn’t been much more difficult than with other clients. When we undertake a project we work on two premises: imposing our architectural criteria and being flexible with regards the client’s own demands. It seems contradictory, but that is the point where real negotiation with the customer is established. That way everything works out well in the end.

What has Mercabarna-flor meant in terms of your career?
It’s been a huge challenge, an opportunity to practice new architectural models. Also, designing for the public-works sector invariably adds further responsibility since, aesthetics aside, one has to create service venues.