Aeropuerto Barajas Madrid
The curious dome now sprouting above the former Las Arenas bullring in Plaça Espanya has caught the eye of many Barcelona residents. Wth its innovative use of repetitive boomerang-shaped wooden beams to support the rooftop structure, the impressive structure bears the signature of British architect Richard Rogers. To enable locals to get a grasp on Rogers’s work, CaixaForum is currently showcasing the Las Arenas project (its transformation into an upmarket leisure and shopping complex) along with 15 other projects in a wide-ranging retrospective on the star architect.
Since most people are used to seeing only the final state of an architectural project (the completed building), this show offers a rare opportunity to view the entire evolution of a building from the first sketches and initial design concept through the technical proposal, architectural models and visual renderings, finishing with large-format photographs of the completed building. However, notably absent are images of the buildings showing how they are actually used; instead they’re presented as ‘artistic masterpieces’ in their own right. While Rogers’s use of new materials and creative building techniques can be awe-inspiring, the pristine colourful models lack humanism and fail to show the way the buildings are ‘lived in’ by the people who come to use them.
The exhibition starts with Rogers’s parents’ house followed by his first major commission, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and one sees here the beginnings of ideas that are developed in later work. The popular and critically-acclaimed Pompidou design set aside half the site as a public plaza and integrates this space into the building vertically through its famous escalators, which wrap around the centre’s façade, transforming them into streets in the air. This same structural expressionism of making lifts, ducts and other service elements of the building visible can be seen in l’Hospitalet’s five-star Hesperia Tower Hotel: its staircase, lift and service towers are placed on the edge of the floors allowing the floor space to be largely open. The hotel (the second tallest building in Catalunya) and its accompanying roof-top restaurant and 4,000-square-metre healthclub and spa cater to a select public. One can only hope that, with the construction of the Las Arenas project currently on hold due to the economic crisis, Rogers’s future Barcelona works will have a more human scale, perhaps less spectacular and monumental (ie costly), but nonetheless vibrant buildings that reach out to all publics.
-- Alexander McSpadden
Reviewer rating: four out of five
Richard Rogers + Arquitectes. De la casa a la ciutat
Until June 7th; free entry
Av. Marquès de Comillas 6-8
Metro: Espanya (L1 & L3)
WANT MORE? Check out the Col·legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya, which has regular architectural exhibitions open to the public. www.coac.net