Sunday, February 5, 2017

Upholstered in Skay, or The Moncloa Complex



On the representation of power: how much can we infer about Spain's political structure in the size and decoration of the Presidential compound at Moncloa?

Office of President Rahoy in Moncloa in 2013. Source ABC
In a column in El País yesterday (Feb. 4, 2017), the historian Guillermo Cortázar analyzes the Palace of Moncloa, an estate on the northern edges of Madrid that has housed the residence and offices of the Spanish Presidency since 1977. He sees the compound reflecting the character of the state that has emerged with the new Spanish democracy following the Franco dictatorship, comparing it to 10 Downing Street. Moncloa has about 2500 employees, he notes, compared to the 70 at home of the Bitish Prime Minister. With its 20 hectares of grounds and 58,000 square meters of built area, he sees it as "demonstrating a prepotency, status and visualization very superior even to those of the Zarazuela", the current official residence of the kings of Spain.

"In contrast, 10 Downing Street is a discrete, temporary residence and office for the Prime Minister. In parliamentary monarchies, it is understood that the Crown is the permanent representation of the nation as a whole, while the president of the government is only the temporary head of one of the three powers of state."

He goes on to assert that this size reflects the concentration of power in Spain in self-serving party structures, in which voters are poorly represented –in Spain one votes for a party in block, not for particular candidates– and in which the separation of powers and other controls are compromised.

But the comparison seems to me rather unfair, as Downing Street is a typically British idiosyncrasy. Though they are not constitutional monarchies, a truer comparison would be with the White House, the German Chancellery or the Elysée Palace, which I would guess are comparable in size and staff, if not much larger. It is also seems unreasonable to infer a structure of political power in size alone.

Gordon Brown receives Barak Obama at 10 Downing Street, 2009. Photo: Pete Souza / Official White House Photostream / Wikikedia Commons
 Cortázar goes on to note the striking differences in decor between Downing Street and Moncloa. He cites the memoirs of Margaret Thatcher as to the furnishing in the London residence, noting the Henry Moore and the paintings of Wellington, George II and other "heroes of Great Britain's history". He quotes her as saying, "in these works the continuity of history can be perceived. It seemed to me of great importance that when foreign visitors came to Downing Street they could contemplate part of Great Britain's cultural legacy." (DC translation from Spanish).

In the Palace of Moncloa, he continues, an aseptic modernity reigns, of giant glass tables, faux white leather furniture ("skay" synthetic leather, very 70s), white walls and abstract art –Miro, Tàpies, Guerrero, Barceló– a legacy of Felipe González's presidency (1982-1996).

His main source for this description is the author Antonio Muñoz Molina, who visited Moncloa during the presidency of the socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004 – 2011). In contemporary photos, under the current president, the conservative Mariano Rahoy, the decor tends to a more traditional wood and black leather, although it is equally bland and anonymous.

Conference room, Moncloa, no date given. Source: Intra Arquitec
 "It's a very 20th century, very modern language, as if trying to not signify anything in particular, nothing that could be susceptible to criticism, no narrative, no references to history. With absolutely no aesthetic ties to the past, the presidents of the government in Moncloa have inaugurated a new era, that of the Party State, initiated in 1977."

Pardo Palacce, residence of Franco and his wife, Carmen Polo, Palm Sunday, late in the regime. Source: Juan Cobos, Xavier Casals

Franco's last speech on the balcony of the Palacio del Oriente, no date given. Source: http://www.libertaddigital.com/cultura/historia/2015-11-21/jorge-vilches-y-al-tercer-dia-resucito-juan-carlos-77294/



I'm not sure the decoration of Moncloa says too much about the current structure of power in Spain either, but it does point to the chasm separating the representation of state power in comparison with the dictatorship, which wrapped itself in the "glorious" "imperial" history of Spain as an ideological self-justification.

This is not to say, however, that this supposedly "neutral" style does not end up signifying its own era, as Cortázar suggests – a condition that will become clear as soon as something else comes along.

As he points out, the role of making historical connections falls now to the monarchy and its structures of self-representation, the palaces and art and museums of the National Patrimony, including the Prado Museum, home of the former royal collections. The monarchy too was a victim of Franco, and thus can safely reclaim history and reinterpret the "glorious" "Imperial" past in its own manner, as seen in the controversy over the installations of the upcoming Museum of the Royal Collections (see below).

Audience Hall, Zarzuela Palalce, residence of the King of Spain. Photo: the swearing.in of a new government in 2010. Source: http://www.wikiwand.com/es/Palacio_de_la_Zarzuela
Speaking in another context, about the vogue for museums of contemporary art in Spain, the art historian María Dolores Jiménez-Blanco said in El País last October, "For a long time we only wanted to look ahead, and culture is a perfect emblem of that. And especially contemporary art. But now we've left behind Francoism and we see ourselves with greater serenity."

The passion among Spanish politicians for commissioning iconic works of architecture over the past 25 years is a perfect reflection of this condition – shall we call it something like an architectural / representational PTSD (Post-Traumaitc Stress Disorder)?  -- It's a variation on Walter Benjamin's Angel of History: our backs to the past, our revulsion propels us blindly forward into the unknown. I had thought at the time that I was witnessing the construction of a new present, but that seems hopelessly optimistic now.

Note 

The Moncloa Palace was entirely rebuilt and transformed after its destruction in the Civil War. In the early 20th century, the presidential residence was located in a palace on the Paseo de la Castellana near the Plaza de Colón. President Suárez moved it to Moncloa ostensibly for security reasons, due to the political instability of the transition period and the threat of Basque terrorism.

Sources

Guillermo Gortázar
"El complejo de La Moncloa"
El País, February 4, 2017

Javier Rodríguez Marcos, Ferran Bono
"Una conversación en el Museo del Prado"  
El País, Section Bableia, October 29, 2016, p 16-19.

Javier Arnald
"Involución en la museología: El Museo de Colecciones Reales, que tardará en abrirse al menos dos años, hará un discurso sobre el legado de la monarquía"
El País, December 12, 2016

Representing the Crown

On this last source, I wrote in Facebook on January 18 the following:

Museum of the Royal Collections, Madrid. Source: BEAU 2016

El País announces that Mansilla and Tuñón's Museum of the Royal Collections, completed last year, will not open for another two years as its owner, Patrimonio Nacional, put together its program and collections.

The article, by art historian Javier Arnaldo, comes with a very critical analysis of the planned exhibit program, which will be organize around a vindication of the "achievements" of Spain's three monarchic dynasties: the Trastámaras, the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons – in other words, an ideological program in defense of the monarchy as an institution.

"…se propone servirse de las colecciones para establecer un discurso sobre el legado histórico de la monarquía española. Prevé una traza museográfica fija que daría cuenta de los logros de las dinastías de los Trastámara, los Habsburgo y los Borbón, a cuya representación se rendirían las piezas expuestas, en conjuntos cuya composición sería susceptible de cambios para hacer rotar partes de la colección."

"Imaginemos que el Museo del Prado, cuyas principales colecciones, como es bien sabido, pertenecieron, como las de Patrimonio Nacional, en su día a la Corona, buscara inspiración para su plan museológico en la bóveda del Casón, en la Alegoría del Toisón de Oro pintada allí al fresco por Lucas Jordán; la involución y disfuncionalidad de la pinacoteca quedarían garantizadas."

Patrimonio Nacional is a state institution that owns and manages all the former properties of the Spanish Crown, but it's administration is largely controlled by the current King, with input from the government in office and public financing.

It seems to me that the problem is as much about having a monarchy in the first place, and an insecure monarchy at that, and allowing it to remain in charge of these things. Maybe a republic would handle this better. Though an ideological use of the sumptuary trappings of power is hard to evade, one way or the other, from the Imperial Palace in Beijing to the White House in Washington. Arnaldo reminds us of the role these objects played in the "spaces of representation of the Crown", and that role is hard to shake off, whether for the glorification of the present state or the glorification of its conquerors and revolutionary usurpers. Hence the cache of a Louis XIV chair, or am I missing something?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Barozzi Veiga: A Question of Character

Szczecin Philharmonic. Images courtesy Barozzi Veiga

New architectural talent tends to erupt quite suddenly on the international scene. Some may remember, back in 1983, when an unknown architect won an international competition with a design of impossibly abstract, sweeping volumes inspired in the revolutionary proposals of the Russian Suprematists. The project was The Peak, in Hong Kong, and the young architect was Zaha Hadid. Studying her painterly renderings at the time, one realized that nothing would ever be quite the same again in architecture.

This sense of generational renewal accompanied the news last year that the young, unknown Barcelona-based practice of Fabrizio Barozzi and Alberto Veiga had won the prestigious European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, also known as the Mies van der Rohe Award, for their Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin, Poland. The commission is only their third finished building to date. But with its translucent profile of jagged glass gables, an expressive but hauntingly subdued echo of the steep peaked roofs of the city, the work announced a new voice in architecture, a new sensibility: intensely poetic, high-minded rather than playful, and with strains of a lofty, melancholy romanticism.

In the wake of the world-wide recession of 2008, the exuberant inventiveness of architects such as Hadid, Santiago Calatrava or Frank Gehry has come to seem dated and excessive, while new concerns such as sustainability and energy conservation have proved insufficient in themselves to inspire architectural renewal. Coming of age during the crisis –they founded their practice in 2004– Barozzi and Veiga have stepped in to fill this void at precisely the right moment.

Speaking from the partners' studio in Barcelona, Alberto Veiga explains their design method: "Fabrizio and I try to synthesize all the problems that come up in the design process and condense them to as much as possible. But we're not minimalists. Often we are quite expressive. But we try to be very clear about the ideas we wish to materialize. The best way to confront the complexity of things is often not to respond with more complexity, but rather by trying to resolve them simply. To reduce them to their essence."

This approach is reflected in the exquisite renderings the two prepare for each project. They earn their commissions entirely through competitions, and spend weeks elaborating these presentations, seeking to convey not only the essential idea of a design but a particular mood and atmosphere.

Rendering, Tanzhaus, Zürich

Veiga and Barozzi met in Seville, while working in the studio of the architect Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra. Barozzi, who is 39, is from northern Italy, and had arrived from the University of Venice on an Erasmus Scholarship. Born in Galicia, in northwestern Spain, 42 years ago, Veiga had studied in Pamplona, followed by a stint with local architect Francisco Mangado, before moving on to Seville. The two began collaborating on the side, and after winning a competition they decided to set up shop on their own. They moved to Barcelona –roughly halfway between Italy and Galicia, Veiga points out– and found a modest flat on a leafy street in the heart of L'Eixample, Ildefons Cerdà's magnificent 19th century expansion of the city, where they work with 13 architects and interns.

Águilas Congress Center



One of the first competitions they won was for an auditorium beside the sea in the town of Águilas, in the southern province of Murcia, Spain. A compact, monolithic cube finished in white stucco, it is subtly modeled like a sculpted piece of stone. "The building is intersected by two spheres and a cone," Veiga comments. "Being by the sea, its appearance changes constantly with the light, and its dynamic – your perception of the volume changes as you approach it."

Denomination Ribera de Duero Headqyarters, Roa, Spain


Their third built project to date focuses mainly on making public space rather than on the sculptural objecthood of the building itself. Located in the small rural town of Roa, Spain, and housing the headquarters for administering the "Ribera de Duero" wine denomination, the design is broken down into fragments, finished in stone like other important buildings of the town, and grouped around a small plaza framing a view of the countryside. A similar strategy informs the much larger Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne, where the two architects have designed the building as a background to the new public space they make beside it. Projects currently under construction include a dance school in Zürich and a music conservatory in Brunico, Italy.

Rendering, Cantonal Museum, Lausanne
  Veiga maintains that what matters most in all these works is the question of character. "To be bigger or taller or use more colors or materials doesn't make a design stronger," he observes. "Buildings can be simpler, but what they have to emit is a certain attitude or character. What we bring to a project is to identify the character of its context, what matters most, and try to make it more intense, more potent."


Concepts: Barrozi - Veiga
Gaggenau New Spaces

Spring 2016, pages 14 - 21

Other blog entries on Barozzi Veiga:
Barozzi - Veiga: Building the Void
Dec. 3, 2014

New Kids on the Block: Estudio Barozzi Veiga
May 1, 2013

Monday, January 2, 2017

Vázquez Consuegra's Torrent Market in Architektur Aktuell




 All photos © Mariela Apollonio
I wrote the following article for the December issue of Architektur Aktuell. Reproduced here in full:

When he set out to design his market building in Torrent, a bedroom community outside Valencia, Spain, the Seville-based architect Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra took cues from characteristic features of the dense urban context, both splendid and rather modest. The exposed white concrete of the structural walls, he explains, relates to the town's principal monument, a 14th-century fortified tower, built by Moorish rulers of unreinforced concrete, which stands in the center of the main square directly in front of the market.  At the same time, he associates the aluminum of the vertical screens that cover much of the building with the aluminum balcony railings and window grilles he observed in many of the town's modest residential buildings, elements which caught his eye for their silvery, light-receptive surfaces.

Together, the concrete and aluminum create a contrasting duality, he maintains, in which the "aridity" and density of the concrete become more vividly evident in contrast to the glimmering lightness of the aluminum, and vice versa. "They capacitate the expressive potential of each other." he explains. "The concrete is more concrete, and the aluminum more aluminum."

His design also creates an intriguing duality between the simplicity of its basic scheme and the sophisticated formal composition of its main facade, developed with a complexity of gesture that gives the building its representative "face" on the plaza.

The building occupies an irregular site that is open on three sides, with long facades facing streets to the north and south, and a narrow facade on the plaza. Vázquez Consuegra divided the building into two zones: a three-story entry vestibule along the southern facade, with the program elements stacked behind it, separated by a thick interior wall housing mechanical ducts and structure. The ground floor contains the market and a cafeteria facing the plaza. A future restaurant and shops occupy the first floor, and a large multi-purpose event space is on the top level. Two underground levels contain a future supermarket and parking.

This simple scheme gives rise on the plaza facade to a layering of shading aluminum screens, glass and voids, crowned by a deep top-floor balcony. The balcony is covered by a floating plane of concrete that is visually  supported solely by a slender steel column that precisely marks the interior division of the building. This division ripples down the rest of the facade, delimiting the horizontal windows of the first-floor restaurant and, on the ground level, separating the cafeteria from the glazed corner entry to the vestibule.

The composition of superimposed planes engages the complete volumetric reading of the building. The vertical aluminum screen, for example, wraps around the building from the southern facade, and then folds out horizontally to create shading canopies at different heights over the entry and café terrace. The balcony roof reads as if it had been cut and folded over from the solid concrete wall of the opposing northern facade. The overall effect is to dematerialize the facade, converting it into a layering of seemingly weightless, luminous planes. To justify this elaborate dance, Vázquez Consuegra explains, "the building steps back so as not to approach the plaza too closely, leaving the protagonism to the (Moorish) tower."

In a more minor key, the vestibule and the top-floor hall offer two other moments of elegant architectonic play. Crisscrossed by open-tread metal stairs, escalators and bridges, the vestibule opens the full height of the building. Its glass curtain wall to the south is open at street level, but screened by the plane of vertical aluminum louvers on the first floor, in order to protect the privacy of the apartments across the narrow street, according to the architect. A south-facing skylight and a single clerestory window on the upper level create a lively play of light, which washes down the aluminum finish of the interior walls and across the black basalt floors. Movement up the stairs and through the space is strategically focused on the large windows overlooking the plaza and tower.  The reflective surfaces and dark floors continue in the market, where the axes of the aisles offer crossing views through the building to the surrounding streets.

Vázquez Consuegra compares the top-floor hall to those of Renaissance markets, as in Palladio's Basilica in Vicenza. Three continuous clerestories, oriented to the north (and with photovoltaic cells on the roof of their southern slopes) transform the high ceiling into a series of folded planes. The main focus of the room, however, is the glazed opening to the balcony, with its privileged views over the town. (The line of the skylights continues out here, in the form of holes punched in the back of the balcony roof, making it both lighter and more luminous).

To this observer, the palette of reflective surfaces dominates the design over the concrete, which takes protagonism only on the largely-solid northern facade where, again to this observer, it seems a bit incongruous with the rest of the building.  Vázquez Consuegra has used these planes of metal and glass in other recent projects, such as his Seville Congress Center, and the upcoming CaixaForum in the same city. Could these seemingly weightless, liquid finishes, and the suggestive luminous spaces they create,  be a response to the denser and tougher architecture of the 1980s and 90s in Spain – to Vázquez Consuegra's own Museum of the Enlightenment in Valencia of 2001, for example, with its hard volumes of exposed concrete?


Finally, it should be mentioned that, though it opened two years ago, the Torrent Market is largely empty. There are a handful of stalls and the café on the ground floor, but no supermarket, no restaurant and no shops. As the architect confirms, the town seems to have developed the program without a feasibility study (a common practice in Spanish public works), and the recent economic crisis has done the rest. The building, with a cost of 8.5 million euros, replaced a previous market on the site, built in 1970, which replaced in turn a gallery around the tower in the middle of the plaza, built in the 17th century and demolished also in 1970. Vázquez Consuegra's building thus stands out not only as a sophisticated work of contemporary architecture, but also as a project conceived more out of political will than practical need. One can only hope that the process of adapting the building to more realistic needs and uses will be carried out with respect for its high architectural quality.



Piroutte on the PlazaTorrent Market, Valencia, by Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra
architektur.aktuell 441, December 2016, pages 72 - 83; cover

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Siza Design for the Alhambra: Back to the Drawing Board


Atrio Building from the Plaza Alhambra and Entry Patio to Cultural Area
All images courtesy of Álvaro Siza and Juan Domingo Santos

Updated January 11, 2017

Contents

News story from Architectural Record
Opinion
Sources
Selections from ICOMOS Report
Selected Quotes from Interviews:
Juan Domingo Santos
Luis López Silgo,  SOS Alhambra

News story from Architectural Record in Full

Plans to build a new entry and visitor center for the Alhambra, the fortified palace in Granada, Spain, featuring a competition-winning design by Álvaro Siza and local architect Juan Domingo Santos will be completely revised after receiving a negative report from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an organization dedicated to protecting World Heritage sites and an official consultant for UNESCO.

While praising the "high quality" of the Siza/Domingo Santos proposal, the report slams the addition as overscaled. The site falls within the "buffer zone" of protected landscape that surrounds the Alhambra, which was established in its original inscription on the World Heritage list in 1984. The report concludes that the proposal, with a built area of over 125,000 square feet, is "too invasive" and is "likely to impact negatively on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property."

Siza and Domingo Santos won a competition in 2011 for the project, and presented their final design in January 2015. Known as the Atrium, it is based on a program developed by the administrators of the Alhambra, which is governed by the regional government of Andalucía and other public institutions. The project would replace existing entry facilities and address the growing needs of 2.5 million visitors each year.

The two architects planned to bank their new building into the slope and cover it with a series of stepped gardens evoking the traditional terraced fields around the Alhambra.

However, the scale of the proposal provoked strong public opposition, organized under the citizen's platform SOS Alhambra. Speaking for SOS, local architect Luis López Silgo credits the platform for first alerting ICOMOS to the plans. Domingo Santos confirms that the public outcry compelled the project's administrators to cooperate with a full ICOMOS review.

The ICOMOS report recognizes the need for the project. But it calls for "a substantial decrease" in built volume and suggests that the amount of commercial space should be reduced, administrative offices should be located off-site, and existing buildings should be better used.

In response, the Alhambra's Board of Directors announced that it will "completely reconsider" the proposal. The review process will incorporate ICOMOS experts, and Siza and Domingo Santos have been asked to remain as designers of the revised project.

The Alhambra has also promised to reach a consensus with SOS Alhambra. However, Luis López told RECORD that the platform remains opposed to any intervention in the buffer zone, which it considers off-limits to new construction, in a strict interpretation of the World Heritage inscription.

This is the full text to my news story for Architectural Record on the subject, completely revising my first post of January 1st. 

Design of Atrio Visitors' Center by Álvaro Siza and Juan Domingo Santos to be revised
Architectural Record Web Page, January 6, 2017


Opinion

My Facebook comment on the story:
The upshot: the Alhambra over-programmed the project without consulting the terms of its status on the World Heritage List or with ICOMOS, the organization that supervises the list for UNESCO. And a citizen's group blew the whistle on them. The architects were tied to the program that the Alhambra gave them, but they get blamed in the public eye along with the politicians and functionaries in charge of the mess. When will Spain learn to build responsibly for the public sector? And without tipping over into the knee-jerk stinginess and architectural philistinism of most US public builders?


View of proposed building from Plaza Alhambra


Sources


Margot Molina & Raúl Limón
"La Alhambra cierra la puerta a Siza"
El País
, Dec. 23, 2016


Raúl Limón
"La Alhambra intenta aprovechar los dos millones del frustrado atrio de Siza"
El País, Dec. 29, 2016


Guadalupe S. Maldonado
"Begoña Bernal. Presidenta de ICOMOS España:'El proyecto del Atrio es inviable porque modifica radicalmente la Alhambra' "
Granada Hoy, Dec. 31, 2016

SOS Alhambra 
Blog:           http://sosalhambra.blogspot.com.eshttp://sosalhambra.blogspot.com.es
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Sos-Alhambra-359012067623048/

Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife 
Noticias de Prensa
Reunión del Pleno del Patronato
Dec. 30, 2016
 

Selections from ICOMOS Report


The project is located on premises outside the precinct of the monumental complex, which is occupied by buildings of low quality as well as being structurally not interconnected. However, the proposed atrium with its annexes occupies a substantial part of the world heritage property’s buffer zone and radically modifies an area that, until a few decades ago, was countryside without high-impact constructions or roads.

The new Atrium Project responds to real reception needs due to the growing number of visitors. It furthermore affects a de-structured area, with architecturally low-quality constructions, which are not harmonized and do not meet today’s needs, as required by monumental complexes of great historical value which have a very strong tourist appeal.

It concerns the area outside the complex precinct with low-rise buildings and many constructions standing under the park level. However, these structures are within the buffer zone and have a strong and visible impact on the perception of space and the entrances to the Old Cemetery Way, Cypress Way, Romantic Gate and Prieto Moreno Steps.

Buildings and land-use changes around the Alhambra implemented in the 20th century:
  1. 1929 approx. - Torres Balbás water reservoir (alberca) 
  2. 1931 - Torres Balbás Gardens (in Generalife Vegetable Gardens) 
  3. 1953 - Prieto Moreno New Gardens (in Generalife Vegetable Gardens) 
  4. 1952 – Construction of Generalife Theatre (in Generalife Vegetable Gardens)
  5. 1959 approx. – Prieto-Moreno water reservoir (alberca)
  6. 1975-1979 - New Alhambra Museums (presently used as storehouses, library and records office) 
  7. 1988 competition, completed in 1994-96: setting up of new parking lots 
  8. 1988 competition, implemented in 1994-96, ticket office hall
  9. 1988 competition, implemented in 1994-96, water platform, partly hosting gift and book shops since about 2005 
  10. The largest hotel among several ones built between 1950 and the 90’s is Hotel Alixares, built in 1982
  11. 2004 - Extension of the Theatre and construction of buildings
  12. Belvedere in the Oliveto (olive grove – Tr.’s note), built around 2005 
 All these changes and additional buildings that reduced the green areas could probably and at least partly have been avoided. As a matter of fact, there are several underutilised buildings in the area which, thanks to a general harmonious and comprehensive plan could meet the needs of the increasing number of visitors.

On the contrary, these already-implemented changes and the future proposed ones do not respond to a consistent and overall strategy for the property to improve its integrity and respond to the needs of increased visitation, rather this is a transformation process lacking a future-oriented vision as well as the necessary studies dealing with the totality of purposes and requirements

The design of the architecture exhibits high-quality, with great attention paid to the inclusion of volumes in the space, and traditional materials proposed in line with the pre-existing situation, both with regard to masonry as well as pavings and paths. Moreover, the organisation of space has been designed to be functional and harmonious so that visitors can enjoy the best possible reception and services.

However, ICOMOS considers that the introduction of no less than 11,832 square metres of buildings and an additional 10,118 square meters of adjacent area contrasts with the provision expressed by the 1984 ICOMOS Evaluation, at the time of the proposed inscription of the property, which recommended the State Party to define a large area of protection below the monumental zone of the Alhambra and the Generalife in order to prevent the construction of future buildings and parking lots. This was also noted by the World Heritage Committee upon inscription of the property, who expressed the wish that, as indicated by the Spanish authorities, a large protection zone will ensure that the visual environment of this property will not be harmed by modern constructions

CONCLUSIONS
Indeed there are a number of needs to be met at the property, namely meeting reception requirements of a growing number of visitors; harmonizing an area with low-quality and inadequate buildings that may detract from the value of the property, that justify a redesign of that area, however the sheer scale of the increase of built up areas in the buffer zone of the World Heritage property, …the excessive percentage of commercial premises (a 699- sqm restaurant and a 361.64- sqm shop), the insertion of buildings for conference rooms and administrative offices that could in fact be placed elsewhere indicate that the project is too invasive and is likely to impact negatively on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property, despite its attention to historic materials, to the landscape and its overall good architectural quality. It is noted that the project lacks any study of alternatives that, for instance, examine the potential offered by existing and under-utilised buildings to host the needed services and could therefore reduce the volumes to be built.


Selected Quotes from Interviews

Juan Domingo Santos

Jan.  4, 2017

"El proyecto tenia todas las aprobaciones de todas las institiciones, desde el Minsiterio de Cultura pasando por el Pleno del Patronato de la Alhambra, la Comisión Técnica del Patronato, la Delgacion de Cultura [del la Provincia de Granada].... También está marcado dentro de un Plan Especial de la Alhambra vigente y también de un Plan Director aprobado donde dice que ya habrá un Atrio y se define el programa. Tenia la aprobación de todas las instituciones legalmente reconocidas para su aprobacción. Sólo faltaba la licencia municipal."

"Es en ese momento cuando surge una polémica en la ciudad, se decide también pedir un informe a UNESCO, y UNESCO lo dirige, parece, a ICOMOS Internacional."

"Además de que todo el proceso es legal, y está consensuado con todos los gestores culturales administrativos legalmente reconocidos, luego hay dos cosas: el proyecto –y esto para el UNESCO es muy importante– se hace sobre un espacio ya intervenido. Es un lugar que ya, desde el año cincuenta del siglo pasado, Prieto Moreno, el arquitecto conservador del monumento entonces, ya adecuo éste espacio como entrada para los turistas. Y desde entonces se han ido haciendo intervenciones para mejorar la accesibilidad al monumento. Es donde se han colocado los hoteles, los restaurantes …. "

"Es un espacio fuera de los muros de la Alhambra que históricamente era un espacio agrícola, un espacio de cultivo. Incluso arqueológicamente no hay nada importante que no sea acequias, y si se ha existido está muy destruido porque toda aquella parte desde 1950 fue donde se empezó a colocar los primeros pabellones de ticketing. Incluso la Alhambra construyo allí un edificio muy grande, que es Los Nuevos Museos, un espacio que tiene para los talleres, las piezas de restauración. Alli está el aparacamiento publico...."

"Es un lugar también muy desestructurado. Hay un jardín en muy mal estado, el desembarco de los autobuses está muy mal colocado, hay coches en superficie delante de la entrada del monumento, delante de la muralla, es feo, caótico, terrorífico."

"Entonces la Alhambra propone, primero,. mejorar los servicios de entrada al monumento, dotándolo de unos equipamientos de venta de entrada, información turística, una cafetería –porque ahora mismo no hay dotación de servicios ninguna para los turistas, está en muy mal estado todo–. Y eso ha hecho igualmente el Acrópolis de Atenas, el Museo del Prado o el Louvre."

"Y segundo, propone mejorar el paisaje de aquel lugar. De hacer un proyecto de paisaje integrado, con jardinería. No es sólo un edificio, es hacer espacios públicos arbolados, hacer un proyecto en continuidad con la Alhambra."

Site, current state. Photo courtesy Siza/Domingo Santos / Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife

Luis López Silgo, SOS Alhambra

Jan. 4, 2017

"Desde el principio, el Patronato de la Alhambr y Generalife, que es la entidad promotora del proyecto, convocó un concurso y se propuso hacer una obra desatendiendo las indicaciones de UNESCO y ICOMOS."

"Según la normativa de este organismo, recomienda a cualquier miembro que tiene un bien escrito en la Lista del Patrimonio Mundial, que cualquier proyecto que va a emprender debe ser comunicado a ICOMOS desde el primer momento para establecer lo directrices que pueden hacerlo viable. Dice recomendación y no obligación, pero realmente si se convierte en una obligación, porque en caso que no se cumplan las recomendaciones del UNESCO, el bien puede ser excluido de la Lista del Patrimonio Mundial."

"Esto no se hizo desde el principio. Desde el principio se hizo mal. Y por eso ahora tienen que volver al punto de salida. Están empezando otra vez desde cero."

"Cuando determinados profesionales y gente interesada por el patrimonio en de Granada nos dimos cuenta de que estaba saltando ese paso, que consideramos fundamental. El proyecto se presento en enero de 2015 y en ese momento se constituyo la plataforma. Y uno de los primeros pasos que hicimos, a parte de denunciarlo públicamente que no cumplía con la normativa del UNESCO, fui diriginos directamente a UNESCO y ICOMOS poniéndoles en conocimiento de que esto se estaba haciendo sin que ellos lo supieron, y que el proyecto atentaba contra las directrices de la elección del bien en la Lista del Patrimonio Mundial."

"La Alhambra y Generalife se inscribían en la Lista del Patrimonio Mundial en el año 1984, y justamente en ese momento la primera advertencia que hizo UNESCO fue que debería establecerse un amplio perímetro de protección, una zona buffer o zona de respeto para impedir que en toda esa zona no se promovía ningún tipo de construcción ni de aparcamiento nuevo. Entonces, basándonos en ese principio, nosotros advertimos que el proyecto era inviable, exactamente lo que está diciendo ICOMOS ahora.…. Y eso es lo que tiene que primar por encima de todo."

DC: Pero ya hay un aparcamiento en superficie allí ahora mismo.

"Si, es lo que se hizo en los años noventa. Pero es un aparcamiento que está perfectamente asumido, porque está con una vegetación, son arboles que se plantaron con veinte años de vida y ya otros veinte han pasado, están crecidos. Es una intervención blanda, que no suponía un incremento de volumen."

"El informe de ICOMOS dice que se ha realizado una serie de otras intervenciones en el siglo XX en esa zona, pero si se miran bien, todas son sin volumetría constructiva. Son una piscina, unos jardines… Lo único que hay a parte de todo eso es una obra privada, un hotel."

"El Informe también habla de que la zona está desestructurada. Y efectivamente, es una zona que no tiene realmente ni siquiera un tratamiento paisajístico, porque son unos caminos que ya existían, está muy interferida por una dársena de autobuses que entran allí para dejar a los turistas. Pero eso no quiere decir que del informe de ICOMOS se pueda deducir que la forma de resolver esa falta de estructura del entorno sea precisamente construyendo 20,000 metros cuadrados de hormigón."

DC No lo dice, efectivamente. Hablan de repensarlo. Que la escala de edificación es demasiado grande.

"No hay que olvidar que empiezan diciendo que en la zona buffer no se debe construir. Y Begoña Bernal, máximo responsable de ICOMOS en España, dice exactamente lo mismo. El proyecto no se puede construir donde se pretende construir."

DC En la nota de prensa del Patronal, dice que van a consultar con las platafomas ciudadanos para llegar a un consenso sobre el proyecto."

"Realmente plataforma ciudadana, la única que hay es la nuestra, engloba otra serie de movimientos y asociaciones. Suponemos que nos consultarán. Pero a nosotros desde el primer momento, estamos con el mismo argumento que al final ha venido a decir ICOMOS, y es que la zona de respeto, el buffer, se estableció precisamente para evitar la construcción de edificios y aparcamientos, y es a partir de allí donde hay que hacer los planteamientos. Eso quiere decir que en el solar donde se ha pretendido construir no se puede construir. Independientemente de que el Plan General de Granada en esa zona si permite una construcción de unos tres mil y pico metros cuadrados, me parece. En las propias bases del concurso hablaban de 5,400 metros cuadros. No de 22,000, que son los que van a construir ahora."

DC En gran parte el proyecto está bajo rasante, ¿no?

"Si, pero son metros de construcción. Y también el subsuelo en ese entorno está sin explorar. Realmente el proyecto debería haber estado acompañado por un estudio arqueológico que no tiene. Y un estudio geológico que no tiene. El proyecto lo remite a que, en adelante, cuando se desarrolle, ya se harán los estudios, cuando eso debe ser algo previo. Porque si, por ejemplo, geológicamente no se puede construir por problemas de cimentaciones o vías de agua, o arqueológicamente porque existe cualquier tipo de resto allí abajo, todo el resto del trabajo se puede olvidar."

Two drawings by Álvaro Siza of the project
Exploded axonometric of uses