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On-Site: New Architecture in Spain

The Museum of Modern Art

February 12 to May 1, 2006

Hotel Habitat, Barcelona

Hotel Habitat, L'Hositalet de Liobregat, Barcelona, Enric Ruiz-Geli, Cloud 9 with acconci Studio and Ruy Ohtake

By Carter B. Horsley

"On Site: New Architecture in Spain" is a stunning and beautiful exhibition of 53 projects under construction or built within the past 8 years.

The exhibition includes some famous names in Architecture such as Frank O. Gehry, Toyo Ito, but not Salvator Calatrava, the subject of a retrospective exhibition currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum (see The City Review article). Mr. Calatrava has some projects that are discussed in the exhibition's catalogue. Most of the architects are Spanish and not well-known, until now, internationally.

Perhaps the most sensational project is the Hotel Habitat in L'Hospitalet de Liobregat in Barcelona, shown above, designed by Enric Ruiz-Geli with Cloud 9 with Acconci Studio and Ruy Ohtake. It is an 11-story, 135-room hotel that is set back on its lower three and upper three levels with rooms and stairwells that protrude from its facades. Its most distinguishing feature, however, is its external "tent," or skeleton, of 5,000 LED-photovolatic hybrid cells, which the catalogue maintains, are "each embedded with its own clock that tracks sunrises and sunsets."

"Each cell," the catalogue continues, "will automatically light up at night to reveal the energy that has been reserved during the day, glowing red when the least amount of energy has been captured all the way to white when it has reserved the maximum amount. This self-referential diurnal diagram doubles as a luminous advertisement for the hotel. Like leaves on a tree, the cells have a double function, also providing passive shade to the inerior. The union of ecology, technology, and marketing makes this building an original hybrid that commands attention."

Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona

Santa Caterina Market, Barcelona, Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue of EMBT Miralles Tagliabue Arquitectes Associats, 2005

The most colorful work in the exhibition is the Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona where Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue of EMBT Miralles Tagliabue Arquitects Associats created a huge, undulating canopy for an existing, neo-classical-style market building in a large square in 2005. The canopy consists of a mosaic of 325,000 hexagonal brick tiles "whose various colors recall a sill life of produce," according to the exhibition's catalogue, which also noted that "an elevator will be completed in the coming year to bring visitors up from market level."

Torre Agbar, Barcelona, Jean Nouvel

Torre Agbar, Barcelona, Jean Nouvel, 2005

Taking a clue from Sir Norman Foster's Swiss Re building in London, Ateliers Jean Nouvel with b720 Arquitectos completed a new, 35-story headquarters for Aguas de Barcelona with a phallic-shaped tower. It has better proportions and a much livelier facade than the Swiss Re building. "Built of concrete, the building's shell is punctuated by modulated square openings whose frequency varies throughout," the catalogue entry noted, adding that "Around the shell, sheets of corrugated aluminium are finished in a spectrum of twenty-five colors, ranging from the dark reds seen at the base to the light blues on the upper tip. A second skin consisting of glass, frosted to various degrees of transparency, provides shading and an overall crystalline veil over what lies beneath. At nighttime, the building is intricately lit, highlighting its vibrant, painting presence."

Hotel at Marqués de Riscal Winery

Hotel at Marqués de Riscal Winery, Elciego, La Rioja, Frank Gehry and Edwin Chan

The oldest winery in the Basque country of Spain is the Marqués de Riscal and Frank Gehry and Edwin Chan of Gehry Partners have designed the focal point of the vineyard's "campus" that will house guest rooms, a restaurant, exhibition space and a reception area. "The upper levels are elevated by three 'super-columns,' massive concrete struts on which increasingly small floor slabs rest, giving the internal volume a vaguely pryamidal shape," the catalogue maintains, adding that "This frees up a tremendous amount of open space on the lower two levels, allowing uninterrupted panoramas of he surrounding vineyard. An irregular wooden frame surrounds the buildling envelope and is the skeleton upon which several colored titatium ribbons rest, forming undulating canopies that give the building a fluid dynamism. The project marks a new notion of cultural tourism, bringing this signature work outside of the urban and suburban fabrics, and allowing the sculpture and the traditional setting to serve equally as the attractions."

Museum of Cantabria, Santander

Museum of Cantabria, Santander, Emilion Tuñón and Luis M. Mansilla

The jagged concrete shafts of the Museum of Cantabria in Santander are designed by Emilion Tuñón and Luis M. Mansilla to have cutouts that flood the spaces with light and the shafts also reference nearby mountains.

Sharing Tower in Valencia by Vincente Guallart

Sharing Tower, Valencia, Vicente Guallart

In Valencia, Sociopolis is a campus of 2,500 new residential units on an 11-acre plot conceived by Vicente Guallart of Guallart Architects. The project was divided into plots for 16 different architects. Guallart's own plot seeks to maximize shared resources and his 16-story Sharing Tower appears, according to the catalogue, "as a striated stack of discs, each with widened central corridors that will house common space." "Adjacent to the tower, the building has arms that hug a central courtyard and contain the complex's other programs," it continued.

Gas Natural headquarters in Barcelona

Gas Natural Headquarters, Barcelona, Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue

Enric Miralles and Benedetta of EMBT Miralles Tagliabue Arquitects Associats have designed a 282-foot-high headquarters for the headquarters in Barcelona of the Gas Natural company, a major feature of which is a projecting, scalloped corbel-like element containing meeting spaces. The catalogue notes that "slight distortions to the skin's mirrored-glass surface produce abstract, sinuous reflections of the environs."

La Granja Escalators, Toledo

La Granja Escalators, Toledo, José Antonia Martinez Lapena and Elias Torres Tur, 2000

Taking a clue from the Beaubourg Museum in Paris, José Antonio Martinez Lapena and Elias Torres Tur of Martinex Lapena-Torres, Arquitectos, created La Ganja Escalators in Toledo in 2000. They "carved a 90-foot-high, six-stage escalator into the city's wall and a steep neighboring hill - connecting an underground car park and public square on the wall's exterior to a belvedere on the interior hilltop - wiht a fantastic view vack onto the plains below," the catalogue noted. "Sitting on massive 98-foot piles, the lush ocher structure becomes a stunning new portal into and out of the old city. With its jagged edges and rapid pedestrian transportation, the porject is a decidedly contemporary addition to the site," it added.

Congress Center in Córdoba

Congress Center, Códoba, Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA)

Rem Koolhaas and Ellen van Loon have designed a stunning and elegant Congress Center in Córdoba whose linear form maximizes views acorss the Guadalquivir river to the city's medieval center. The building is distinguished by a main auditorium that also serves as the building's canopy.

Terence Riley

Terence Riley, Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art

Spain is shaking off the dust of the ages, according to Terence Riley, the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, "creating a mantle not of churches but of airports, museums, hospitals, libraries, train stations, stadiums and auditoriums." "Every region of the country boasts a wave of new works of architecture of the highest design ambition. Spain seems determined to correct the civil and cultural deficits that are a legacy not only of General Francisco Franco's military rule from 1939 to 1975 but also of the Counter-Reformation's mix of authoritarianism and religious orthodoxy," Mr. Riley wrote in the catalogue.

"Looking to recent history for clues to explain Spain's emergence as a laboratory for contemporary architecture," Mr. Riley continued, "its hosting in 1992 of both the World's Fair in Sevilla and the 25th Olympiad in Barcelona was undoubtedly a catalyst. The previous year, the country had already taken a step toward the forefront of international architecture when the Basque government signed an agreement with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York to finance and construct a museum in the aging industrial city of Bilbao. by the time of its completion six years later, to the acclaimed designs of Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry, Spain was also, like so many nations around the globe, self-consciously mapping its course for the next millennium through a number of ambitious architectural projects, such as the expansion and renovation of the venerable Museo del Prado by Rafael Moneo...and the vast City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia by locally born Santiago Calatrava."

Calatrava's absence from the exhibition, but not the catalogue, is a bit puzzling but perhaps is explained by the fact that he is the subject of a major retrospective exhibition now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Public housing, Carabanchel, Madrid

Public Housing, Carabanchel, Madrid, Morphosis with B + DU Estudio de Arquitectura

Thom Mayne of Morphosis and Begoña Diaz-Urgorri of B + DU Estudio de Arquitectura have designed a low-rise village bounded by a slender tower on one side and a mid-rise building on another and incorporated "elements of traditonal detached villas - loggias, green spaces, and domestic scale - into a large-scale project. According to the catalogue, the scheme "radically transforms the anonymous character of the conventional low-income housing block" and "a precast concrete grid forms the lattisceowrk of the folded facade," adding that "large communal gardens, shared courtyards, and smaller private patios are interspersed throughout."


City Hall facade, Manresa, Barcelona

City Hall facade, Manresa, Barcelona, Manuel Bailo + Rosa Rull

Described in the catalogue as a "small-scale project with large ambitions," the City Hall in Manresa, Barcelona was in need of repair and Manuel Bailo + Rosa Rull carved out about a third of a decaying 19th Century stone facade to eliminate the building's weakest portions. "A steel frame," the catalogue observes, "stabilizes the wall within, becomes the skeleton from which several triangulated wood and glass planes emerge....The seemingly arbitrary geometry is an improvisational technique that mutates according to contextual cues: important views outward as well as the staircase's own landings. This addition is a bold and unapolegetic improvement...."

Congress Center in Badajoz

Congress Center, Badajoz, José Selgas and Lucia Cano

José Selgas and Lucia Cano of selgascano have designed a striking Congress Center in Bandajoz close to the Portugese border. "The structure," according to the catalogue, "is built into two historic boundaries, the pentagonal perimeter of the city's rampart and the circular footprint of a seventeenth-century bullring. A stack of fiberglass rings encloses a stout cylindrical volume housing the center's main auditorium, which contains a circular inner hall that functions as the main vestibule as well as an informal meeting space. The area between the outer ring's eastern edge and the surrounding rampart is filled in to create smaller subterranean meeting rooms. At night, light emanating from the auditorium and filtered through the fiberglass screen creates an abstract sculptural presence that slips effortlessly into its fabled setting."


Casa Levene in San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Casa Levene, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, by Eduardo Arroyo of NO.MAD Arquitectos

The exhibition also includes some very unusual and superb single-family residences. Eduardo Arroyo of NO.MAD Arquitectos has designed Casa Levene in San Lorenzo de El Escorial in Madrid and "rather than clearing a site for the house, the faceted volume was derived by utilizing open areas amid clusters of trees," the catalogue noted. "Studies were conducted to determine how the trees would filter the light and how shadows would be cast on each level of the house. The three levels, within which separate branches accommodate discrete functions progress from public to private as they descend. The main entrance is on the upper level, which contains living and entertainment areas," the catalogue entry continued.

Casa Rural in Girona by RCR Arquitectes

Casa Rural, Girona, RCR Arquitectes

Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramón Vilalta of RCR Architectes have designed a beautiful residence in Girona in the mountainous northeast corner of Spain. "Perched on an embankment between two pastures, the house consists of eleven boxes overlooking farmland. The volumes, clad in weathered, rust-colored steel, resemble a row of traditional agricultural sheds whose dialectic between primitive shelter and modern dwelling becomes apparent upon close inspection. The house is approached through a subterranean tunnel and garage carved under the embankment. Above, a hallway, sunk 5 feet below ground, connects all the boxes - private spaces, each with its own outward view."

Relaxation Park, Torrevieja, Alicante, Toyo Ito

Toyo Ito has designed the most poetic project in the exhibition, the Relaxation Park in Torrevieja, Alicante, a beach town. The "park" is designed as a spa and has been landscaped, the catalogue notes, "to mimic gently sloping sand turnes in which three shell-shaped structures have been embedded." "The structures house a restaurant, an information cener, and an open-air pool. the basis of their forms are cocoon-like spiral frames that weave together the main structural elements: steel rods and timber joists thtat are then clad in plywood in certain areas. The result is a soft exoskeleton, with skin and bones alternately exposed. Hung floors give the structures added rigidity."

Click here to order the paperback edition of the exhibition catalogue by Terrence Riley

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