With the announcement of the 2017 Pritzker Prize laureates, the Spanish architecture studio RCR Arquitectes has found themselves suddenly being propelled to international fame. One might be wondering, who are these people and what did do to receive such an honour? While I don’t usually write about architecture here, I thought perhaps this is a bit different and deserves a mention as it delves into the sublime.
The Building That Isn’t ThereLocated at the site of the demolished La Lira Theatre where the Ter and El Fraser rivers meet in the small town of Ripoll, Catalonia, Spain is a building that redefines what it means to have a facade. Left with a gaping hole in the urban fabric after the removal of the old theatre building, the architects decided to celebrate this by framing the outlines of where it once stood with corten steel panels. The choice of using dark coloured steel is also, in a way, in remembrance of the black box theatre that once stood here.
This framing gesture is quite intentional as the roof trusses which normally support the roof panels by being beneath them, are now flipped up on top and slightly out of sight, while the roof is suspended from them. While officials are careful to call it a ‘public space’ and not a building, it does have a restaurant on the ground level and multi-purpose room in the basement, so one cannot not call it a building, although partly its because it tries so hard to hide its building functions. But it’s definitely not a park or a piazza. It just doesn’t have a facade in the traditional sense of the word, for its facade exists metaphysically. The corten steel slats that line the walls and roof are spaced unevenly, producing an organic look, somewhat reminiscent of a bamboo structure. However the introduction of wall climbing vines seeping through the slits is a rather strange, dystopian aesthetic recalling movies with derelict industrial buildings that have been overrun with vegetation after years of neglect. Perhaps this vegetation growing out of steel structure aesthetic is a commentary on the plight of the town itself, as Ripoll used to be an industrial town which is going through a sort of economic renaissance. Unfortunately, a restaurant is put in the place where a stairway had originally been designed to lead to the basement, for now it is rather unclear how one gets there.
“Learn the wiseness of uncertainty to be certain.” Ramon Vilalta