Factoría Joven, a colourful skatepark and climbing wall in Merida
Christopher Turner examines the work of the Spanish architecture practice, following its commissioned to design the 15th temporary structure in Hyde Park and the completion of its first UK project
SelgasCano Arquitectos has been selected to design next year’s Serpentine pavilion: the 15th in the series. Spanish architects Lucía Cano and José Selgas, who create structures out of inexpensive materials collaged together with an awry wit, are an inspired choice.
The Madrid-based practice, which works out of a subterranean office of its own design – half bunker, half poly-tunnel (think Richard Rogers’ experimental Zip-up House buried underground) – became known internationally for its vibrant Factoría Joven, a colourful skatepark and climbing wall in Merida. With its yellow-painted paths, astroturf banks and bulging, snaking orange canopy, it might have been inspired by the set of the Wizard of Oz.
Two years ago, I visited the practice’s sizeable auditorium and congress centre on the waterfront in Cartagena, southern Spain, which resembles a freighter-load of stacked shipping containers beached on shore. It was an exhilarating building, almost carnivalesque in its pop-art playfulness. At night, the whole structure, whose 410m facade dominated the palm-studded broad walk, glowed like a Chinese lantern. I met the architects at the entrance, with its jagged wall of mirrors and anamorphic artwork, and was led down a huge orange ramp into a world of colourful artifice. Inside, there were wonderful details at every turn: an impressive waterfall of slender staircases glowed under the warm light that filtered though a skylight made from orange ETFE sheeting. The main auditorium’s lightbox walls glowed blue, as though under the sea.
Auditorium and congress centre in Cartagena, southern Spain
The materials were economical, ordered in bulk or off the shelf, but used in such a way that nothing seemed standard – there was a handmade quality to it all. The facade was clad in cheap, coloured plastic piping, which was also used, threaded with neon lighting, as a canopy in the outdoor bar area, whose balcony was closed with cheap wire fencing. Huge inflatable beach balls were used as chandeliers above the escalator leading to it.
The artists’ entrance was a caged tunnel made by simply bending over the steel poles that reinforced the concrete. A piece of damaged reflective glass was left propped up in the entrance, where everyone asked if it was an artwork by Dan Graham. The freestanding Cappellini washbasins in the bathrooms, Selgas told me, were the only expensive item in the building.
I saw SelgasCano again later that year in the Spanish pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where the architects were struggling with the mechanics of their hydroponic, revolving garden: a suspended structure that looked like it was made of enormous hair rollers, of similar architectonic ambition.
The practice has just fitted out its first UK building: a “creative hub” in east London called Second Home, in which it has used lots of curving glass, mirrored panel, white corrugated plastic and its trademark orange to 1960s, Kubrick-esque effect. The Serpentine pavilion will be its first completed building here.
Though the practice’s design for Hyde Park is yet to be revealed, SelgasCano promise to create a structure that “embraces the garden”. Expect a dizzying pavilion, in bright colours (the duo takes inspiration from Mexican architect Luis Barragán) that plays with ideas of transparency and the witty use of ersatz materials. “It will be absolutely experimental,” Selgas promises, “from every angle you look at it.”
Images: Iwan Baan
SelgasCano’s first UK building: A “creative hub” in east London called Second Home
Do you think SelgasCano is a good choice of architect for next year’s pavilion?