words Kieran Long
The Spanish architects are finding a new direction in their work with powerfully figurative patterns in public spaces.
Inaki Abalos and Juan Herreros are two of Spain’s brightest architectural talents, specialising in playful and provocative pieces of writing, and austerely beautiful building projects.
The urban landscaping projects shown here reveal a new dimension to their work that liberally uses figurative patterns to give identity to blighted urban contexts.
The biggest project, won in an international competition in 2000, is the Coastal Park in Barcelona, which turns a previously rundown area into a public space, as well as creating a new eco-park to promote sustainability and recycling in the city. The architects describe the current landscape on the site as “unsociable, dour and artificial” and have proposed a three-part project which connects a public transport hub to the sea, giving access to the diverse areas of the site.
The riot of surfaces and textures includes a section with outsized fish printed on the ground, and a large artificial hill which houses technical equipment and shields the public areas from views of a nearby incinerator.
The architects have a clear idea of the value of natural finishes such as grass and sand to provide their own attraction, and the project uses typological landscapes as references, such as dunes, meadows, mountains and beach. “At each moment the sequence has a differentiated surface treatment, using traditional materials and techniques with clearly figurative patterns. Next to the new marina, we propose an enormous open field that is offered to the city dweller for no other reason than its privileged situation and its quality grass surface,” they say.
The main aim is to give the location communal spaces characterised by an unashamedly pop manipulation of different surfaces and placed elements.
Abalos & Herreros are also designing a new public plaza in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, and a new project for public space in Rio de Janeiro. In the Rio study, their interest in ornament as a generator of identity comes to the fore. “We’ve found that the first square metre that surrounds the feet of a city-dweller is essential for creating the effect of centrality.” The project attempts to use the chaotic nature of the Brazilian city to generate a visual identity for the pavement. To achieve this, the architects borrowed images from the work of artists such as Madrid-based Albert Oehlen. Abalos & Herreros’ is an instinctive and playful approach which is yielding joyful urban spaces.