Metropol Parasol by Jürgen Mayer H 17.08.11

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Six thick, trunk-like columns rise from the Plaza de la Encarnación in Seville. They fan out, mushroom-like, before joining to create a curvaceous and continuous wooden structure high above the plaza. It appears as pure form: a perfectly consistent cloud inserted into the dense city fabric. This is the Metropol Parasol, Berlin-based architect Jürgen Mayer H's unashamedly iconic contribution to the historic centre of Seville.

Such extravagance seems out of keeping with Spain's post-boom modesty and, for such an expensive project, the brief is wonderfully vague. Mayer sees it as "an atmospheric cover for various forms of public activities still to be invented". Its scale and colour meld with the setting, communicating with the surrounding buildings to activate the square in new ways.

Not all is whimsy; there are more traditional spaces. The building provides a satisfying layering of functions hidden beneath the 150m-long, 75m-wide parasol. A subterranean archaeological museum displays Roman ruins found on site. Above, a one-storey plinth in Mayer's typical glass and curved concrete hosts a market, with the roof
of this plinth accessible as part of the square. The mushrooms above give shade, while their stalks provide access to the top of the structure. Up top, a winding walkway follows the topography, affording changing views across the city. There is a conceptual beauty to this idea of rising from the prosaic to the poetic, from the ruins below to walking in the clouds above.

Metropol Parasol is the fullest expression of Mayer's ideas to date. An interest in new material developments pervades all his work and here he uses the latest in timber and glue technology. "It is the largest timber construction in the world," he says. More than 3,000 joints connect the laminated wooden pieces, of which no two are alike. A special glue was developed to "deliver the forces into a larger field around each joint", giving it another world first – the largest structure held together by glue.

Also evident is Mayer's interest in scale. "We often shift scales of various elements found on site," he says. Here the great vaulted spaces of Seville cathedral and the trees of the surrounding squares provided references which could be played with and abstracted to create the billowing baroque structure.

Despite Mayer's obvious interest in digital form-making, he fits uneasily into the group of young Zaha-inspired parametricists. His work at the intersection of art, architecture and new technologies is closer to the sensibilities of radical "outsider" architect Frederick Kiesler (1890-1965). With Metropol Parasol, these interests merge seamlessly, coming close to a realisation of Kiesler's concept of "Endless Space", a space of infinite possibility, enclosed by neither walls nor ceilings.

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credit Fernando Alda

 

Image

Ignacio Ysasi

 

Words

Duncan Marsden

quotes story

It is the largest timber construction in the world and the largest structure held together by glue

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