After years in development Eisenman’s icon finally emerges from the earth as a flawed monument to Spanish political wrangling
More than any other country in the world, Spain has faith in the power of architecture as a tool for cultural promotion. From the Expos of Seville and Zaragoza, which have left redundant fields of novelty pavilions in their wake, to the desolate urban-scale projects of Valencia’s 1998 City of Arts and Sciences, and Barcelona’s Forum of 2004, big name architects are seen as the saviours of instant place branding, the ultimate weapon in the battle for global attention.
And the beauty is that it matters not what goes inside these buildings. The architecture alone – providing it is sufficiently unusual or “iconic” – is enough to justify the investment. From Santiago Calatrava to Foreign Office Architects, Herzog & de Meuron to Zaha Hadid, the ageing avant-garde has been airlifted in, up and down the country, to adorn Spanish towns with expensive baubles that they cannot afford. They have brought concert halls and museums, libraries and conference centres, and other bulky typologies that no one really knew they needed. If ever the optimistic spirit of “build it and they will come” were alive, it is here in Spain...
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Originally published in BD, 9 March 2011