Archive | April, 2009

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2005 Sports Center Llobregat

Posted on 08 April 2009 by Alvaro


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piscinadecornellacfernand_530x353Alvaro Siza’s world-class sports centre in Barcelona is a model of urban planning.

The new Llobregat Sports Centre in the Barcelona suburb of Cornella is an example of what could be achieved. Designed by Alvaro Siza, the 40,000sq m sports centre is part of a larger sports park development which will include a new stadium for Barcelona’s “other” football club, Espanyol. The site was a flat rectangle of empty land between the dense streets of the post-war suburb to the north and Barcelona’s ring road to the south. Access roads separate it from a school to the west and playing fields to the east.

The building is set back from the built-up urban edge and made up of a distinct group of large interlocking volumes of white concrete which express the primary programmes within: a rectangular box for the 2,500-seat sports hall, an oval drum for the swimming pool and a long bar for the ancillary facilities. From a distance the ridge of hills that keeps Barcelona’s sprawling suburbs pressed against the sea and gives the city much of its topographical character emerge above the buildings. The scarred concrete profile of the sports hall fits effortlessly into the tableau with the line of tree-covered outcrops on the horizon.

Two ramps, each the size of a town square, rise up from the car park and meet at an entrance 4m above the ground. The stilted curves and monolithic materiality of the sports hall disassociate it from other big out-of-town sheds and evoke memories of landforms, while the ramps imply that you have to climb some pre-existing terrain before you can enter the building. These gestures begin to detach you from the reality of the building’s lacklustre surroundings, a process that continues inside to become the main ordering force of the building.

The detailing is sparse, almost nonexistent. The walls are in-situ concrete cast with not quite square panels of smooth formwork. Siza specified that the finished concrete should not be made good in any way so there are already streaks of staining and a patchwork effect where the concrete has cured differently behind each board.

Moving inside, you enter an amazing space 100m long, L-shaped in section. The scale is intimate and you are suddenly aware of subtle differences between being here or there in the larger volume. The interior is precisely formed around human movement and perception.

The circulation area is stark but beautifully lit by precisely positioned openings. Once away from the entrance there are no views back out except at the far end where you are offered a glimpse of the outdoor pool below. Two skylights cut into the ceiling and fill the southern end with a soft glow, drawing you down towards the swimming pool entrance and introducing an other-worldly element to the architectural promenade. Later, when you head back to the entrance to leave, a high-level window frames a view of the rooftops of Cornella as if to wake you gently and remind you to where you are about to return.

Deep thresholds separate the sports hall and swimming pool from the circulation space. At the swimming pool entrance, instead of just a row of doors, a kind of anti-space has been made with two curving walls, not as a distinct room but as a distortion of the circulation space, as if the space itself has been morphed around. An event such as this looks naive on a plan but the reality of the experience only induces awe at Siza’s masterful judgment of precisely where to introduce light, how much to curve a wall, when to step a ceiling.

The poor swimmers and athletes miss most of this and descend a staircase behind the reception desk to the changing rooms below via a more conventional long corridor. Above the circulation area the exercise rooms are arranged in a line and all are naturally lit by conventional windows, skylights or borrowed light from the circulation space. Their ceilings are sculpted with plasterboard to hide artificial light sources.

Siza’s ubiquitous tool, the dado, appears inside the building, although in a less playful mood than usual, and in grey paint rather than stone. It has a constant level in each space and is the same colour as the floor, as if the room has been filled with paint to a given level and then drained. The level varies slightly between spaces to fine-tune the visual perception of each space.

The sports hall roof is a space-frame, the only expressed structure anywhere in the building. The swimming pool by contrast has a shallow elliptical concrete dome roof with 62 circular rooflights. When the sun shines, spots of sunlight reflect off the water and walls like a glitterball in a 1950s dance hall. A ramp descends around one side of the ellipse for spectators to watch events in the pool.

On the ramp, your eye level is roughly at mid-height in the space so the spots of light on the water mirror the rooflights above, like in Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion where the ceiling height is set so that the eye is at mid-height, setting up a horizontal symmetry that works with the reflective materials to dissolve spatial boundaries. The same idea recurs in several places, in the sports hall where you enter at the top of the seating rake and in the circulation corridor where the ceiling height drops near the pool entrance.

The indoor and outdoor pools are linked in an irregular-shaped plan, like a rubber duck, a similarity I wouldn’t be surprised to learn was intentional. Where they join, glass doors can be dropped down from inside the wall like a portcullis to separate them. The curving edge flows through like a meandering river.

Outside, you discover a hidden oasis of curving forms. The pool’s edges swerve and turn while the water reflects the arching sports hall roof and the clouds overhead.

An arc of wall and roof close the pool area off to the south and provide a crescent of shade from the summer sun. The scale of the arc increases as it sweeps up and round to meet the drum of the indoor pool.

At one end of the canopy, where the cantilevered roof is at its widest, a support has been inserted. Instead of a simple column, a slender cylindrical shaft emerges from a more massive abstract volume just like Le Corbusier’s column in the east porch at Ronchamp, a typical Siza mannerist reinterpretation from the modern architectural library. To point out such an obvious quote is to fall into his trap, deliberately daring you to doubt his ability and simultaneously exhibiting his effortless handling of form, meaning and memory.

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1994 Aveiro Library

Posted on 07 April 2009 by Alvaro


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2317385468_c11a41150dCampus Universitário de Santiago
3810-193 Aveiro
Portugal

The library plays a central role in the organisation of the university campus situated on the edge of the city of Aveiro. A free-standing curving wall characterises the western façade and expresses the reinforced concrete structure of the building.

This baffle admits reflected light while a continuous horizontal cut at the third level assures (for those seated) a visual connection across the sait marshes extending to the horizon.

All electrical and air-conditioning services are integrated into the perimeter shelving system at each floor allowing the ceilings to be left uncluttered and spatially continuous with the vertical voids which traverse the interior spaces. This configuration also permits the spatial continuity of the double curvature of the ceiling at the top floor.

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1977 Quinta da Malagueira

Posted on 02 April 2009 by Alvaro

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evora2032Between 1973 and 1977 , Álvaro Siza designed three housing projects that together form a defining period in the architect’s early work. Two of these, Bouça and São Victor were low cost projects designed for the SAAL organization in Porto, the worker’s council that formed to address the severe housing conditions that existed in Portugal after the 1974 revolution.

Both projects were built on difficult inner city sites in the center of Porto to provide adequate housing and prevent the displacement of low-income citizens.

Malagueira, the third project, was designed as a suburban community on the outskirts of Évora, an old Roman town of about 40,000 that was the capital of the Alentejo region, located about 100 miles east of Lisbon. Bouça and São Victor are examples of limited infill building, (40 and 12 units respectively). Malagueira, by comparison, is a large,low-rise, high density complex of about 1200 dwellings built over a period of about 20 years on a 27 hectare site between two existing barrio communities.

All three projects demonstrate a design process for building in dense urban conditions that Siza characterizes as “forming a whole with ruins”. All three are made of similar dwelling types in which an architectural vocabulary of similar, sparse cubic forms is used to develop the geometry and repetitive order typical to most housing designs while at the same time achieving a high degree of architectural variety.

Prior to 1973, Siza was known for a series of small private commissions, including several houses, the Boca Nova restaurant, the Pinto & Sotto Maior bank at Oliveira de Azemis, and a swimming pool at Leça da Palimeira, a small community along the coast north of Porto. These buildings display a developed modernist style and clearly show Siza’s skill interpreting site conditions, his use of primary geometric forms, and the attention given to the selection of basic materials and careful detailing.

Siza’s housing, especially work done for the workers’ Councils that formed after 25 April 1974, was designed under very difficult political and economic conditions in a very contentious participatory process that made it almost impossible for the architect to function as a designer. Certainly the astringent, minimalist results of Bouça and São Victor are a product of this condition but they are also a testament to Siza’s skills using a few basic design strategies and elements to create a powerful collective result. The extreme angst surrounding the construction of Bouça and São Victor that seems to be part of the history of these two housing projects, lasted for many years as these buildings deteriorated over time, culminating with the demolition of São Victor and, happily, the final completion of the original design for Bouça in 2007. It was the experience of these two projects that form precedents and set the stage for Malagueira.

Siza was given the commission for Malagueira because of his experience with Bouça and São Victor. Housing conditions in Portugal were desperate at this time and the Évora City Council wanted to build new housing in the rolling landscape west of the old city along the road to Lisbon. The Évora program was quite different from the Porto work and the idea was to build a completely new satellite community that would eventually be owned by the residents in a cooperative organization. Siza objected to the title “social housing” pointing out that all housing is social but within the framework of a pressing national need for new housing, Malagueira was not thought of as a typical installation of subsidized social housing. Land was expropriated for a new community planned for about 1200 dwellings.

Two existing barrio communities, Santa Maria and Nossa Senhora da Gloria, had grown up along one of the radial roads leading out of the city, creating am east-west axis. A meandering stream running in a general north-south direction on this side of the city, passed between the two villages and this space was the site for the new community. Other traces of the former occupation of this area included the remains of an Arab bath, a water tank, some cork oaks, a school, 2 old windmills, and the old residence of Malagueirinha with an adjacent orange grove. A system of paths had developed over time as people walked to different destinations in this landscape between villages to shop, get water, or make the 35-minute walk to the center of Évora on the hilltop.

The gridiron organization of Santa Maria was the model for the layout of the new quarter forming a new street pattern of smaller fragments of a tartan grid of parallel rows of streets and alleys and back-to-back patio houses. The largest of these groups extends along the north edge of Santa Maria forming a long narrow zone opening to open public spaces along the stream. Other smaller fragments of the grid were attached to the ends of the original barrio, essentially enlarging the perimeter of the village. Still other groups were sited at different angles forming several separate neighborhoods responding to alignments suggested in the landscape. The meandering interstitial spaces between neighborhoods are part of the public open spaces that followed preexisting paths and other features in the landscape. These areas between built-up regular clusters of houses are used for community uses, shopping, parking, recreation, and pedestrian circulation.

A system of raised concrete aqueducts connects the separate residential clusters together and provides the infrastructure for water and electric distribution. Aqueducts were a feature of the Roman and later of the Renaissance era and remains of these are still visible in Évora. This established a precedent for a system of aqueducts to be used to distribute water in the new community. Raised channels made of exposed concrete block that are supported on columns forming a more-or-less continuous loggia structure that connects neighborhoods while servicing each house within the neighborhood clusters. The aqueduct system was justified on the basis of cost, but it also functions as a large-scale planning device that connects neighborhoods and forms public arcades defining entrances to groups of shops and other public facilities. Because it is built to the height of the roof of the second floor and is left as unfinished concrete, it provides visual and formal relief to the relentless, repetitive white walls of the dwellings.

The scale of Malagueira is much larger than the earlier Porto sites, but the basic 2-story dwellings are similar. In Bouça, 2-story maisonettes are combined back-to-back in 4-story, gallery-access building. The rows of dwellings in Malagueira, although they are only 2-stories high, share a similar back-to-back section concept with each facing a street. At São Victor, on a much smaller site, 2-story dwellings were used in an articulated row of individual houses with some defined exterior spaces front and rear.

The dwellings at Malagueira are patio or atrium types with an “ell”-shaped group of rooms on two sides of a small interior patio. There are two similar types, both built on an 8m x 12m plot, one with the courtyard in front and the other with the courtyard at the rear. Both have living, dining and kitchen spaces at the courtyard level with an interior stair leading to bedrooms and terraces above. The two types can be combined in several different ways resulting in different patterns of solid and void. This manipulation of the paired combinations is a key to the rich concatenated rhythm that is achieved with a pallet of only two dwelling types. Wall heights vary from entry gate height, to the second floor height to a vent wall that is perpendicular to the street and extends to the height of the second floor roof. This range of wall heights coupled with the alternating position of the patios and terraces results in a rich three-dimensional composition. The construction follows the topography so the houses step along the street as well as stepping perpendicular to the street. This further adds to the compositional variety. Seen from a distance, the houses seem to be taller than just 2 floors as they step up the contours giving the impression of a much denser, taller, terraced organization. The very limited pallet of doors and window shapes also vary in height with the contours furthering the concatenated organization of walls. The houses are designed to be added on to over time by the occupants so that they can begin as a simple two room house built on one level that can be transformed into a much larger dwelling with several bedrooms, multiple baths, and roof terraces. The incomplete quality of the evolving houses within the walled volume helps break down the strict repetition typical of most low cost housing.

Many comparisons have been made between Siza’s housing and Dutch and German siedlungen of the 1920’s and to some of the work of Adolf Loos. The use of flat roofs, white plaster exterior walls, the sparse application of windows and doors and the absence of decoration are all similar shared features. São Victor could be seen as a version of Oud’s Weissenhof row houses that have been inserted into an almost impossible site. Malagueira might be seen as Weisenhoff units facing the street on each side and backed up to each other in repetitive rows. The parallel rows of apartments with the rounded commercial ends at Bouça have similarities with Kiefhoek although Bouça is a 4-story high, gallery type. Bouça may have similarities to Mart Stam’s slabs, but the layered qualities of the section the use of colored walls on the upper floors, the complex section, upper terraces and the careful fitting of the building to the site are qualities quite different from the zeilenbau typology as used by Stam, and others. Loos’s early houses and his project for 20 terraced houses share many of the cubic, sparse qualities and the solid/void organization of Malagueira, but this unbuilt project was a proposal for a 4-story, point-access terraced slab. Other suggestions have been made that Malagueira was derived from vernacular Portuguese sources and rationalism. Siza, however, felt that his architecture grew from the context and from the economic and technical conditions of the time.

Unlike the Porto work, Malagueira has aged well over the 30 years of its occupation. Bouça has been completed and restored and is the product of a different residential model. Because Malaguiera was sponsored and financed and maintained by the city of Évora, and because the residents were living here under a combination of private and cooperative ownership, and rentals, the buildings have been well maintained, and for the most part, appear pretty much as they did when they were built. Of the 1100 dwellings that had been built by 1977, 60% were cooperatives, 35% rental and 5% privately owned. Financing was arranged so that houses could be owned after 25 years. The co-ops also controlled resale prices to limit speculation and sub-letting was not allowed. These and other rules limiting modifications to the original building contributed to a sense of well-being and a high level of maintenance.

There are some examples of the kind of “vernacularization” that inevitably goes on in a big housing project like this, especially one that is mostly occupant-owned. The painted wainscots and colored trim painted around doors and windows on some houses (an apparent attempt to capture the ambience of vernacular Alentejo building), the application of aftermarket accessories like roll-down shutters, door grilles, air-conditioning units (the sure sign of owner affluence), random electrical wiring, added street lights, retrofitted windows and the arbors and trellises that get built on the roof terraces are all signs of owner occupation but this is limited and have not seriously harmed the overall quality and maintenance of Malagueira. The graffiti that might have been tempting with all these white walls, and which are quite typical of most low-income housing, seem to be entirely missing here.

A more obvious problem with Malalgueira is the development and use of the interstitial spaces. The contrast between the highly structured organization of streets and houses and the more pastoral landscape of the meandering path of the stream is a seductive concept but in its unfinished state tends to read merely as leftover space. Some of the elements that have been built in this landscape, the pond, the open theater, the dam on the street, and the loggia formed in front of the shops by the aqueduct are obvious moves to inhabit the interstitial zone but ones that do not seem quite powerful enough to connect landscape and building. The curse of the suburban housing project has always been that it is so often disconnected from the needs of daily shopping; Malalgueira residents still seem destined to carry grocery bags on long walks along the original paths connecting places in the Alentejo landscape.

Project Quinta da Malagueira
Architect Siza, Álvaro
City Évora
Country Portugal
Address Av. da Malagueira, c. 2 km w. of Évora
Building Type Clustered low-rise
Row house
Number of Dwellings 1200
Date Built 1977-1998
Dwelling Types 2-4 BR courtyard houses
No. Floors 2
Section Type rowhouse
Exterior Finish
Materials plaster, conc., wood windows
Construction Type conc. frame, masonry walls
Ancillary Services parking, commercial, communal open spaces

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