Building in Palma, Lisboa and Santander
Solid, Liquid and Gaseosus
Architecture is built with matter and gravity, yet buildings do not always look material and grave. It is true that classical tradition conceived the discipline as a balance between utilitas, firmitas, and venustas, that is, as a progression from function to beauty by way of architecture’s permanence in time. But it is no less true that one of the dreams of modernity was to make buildings light, immaterial, even obsolescent constructions. Add to this the decay that marks our times, a period so allergic to any suggestion of cohesion and stability, and we architects end up trapped in a paradox: nostalgic for a solidity that no longer seems to make sense, we remain averse to accepting the obsolescence postponed by the most radical avant-gardes.
This paradox can be a trap, and become a contradiction. But it can also be a way out, especially in ambiguous contexts, borderline situations halfway between cities and the landscape and therefore forced to reconcile demands for the historical and physical continuity of the city with the variable and largely unpredictable state of nature.
Ways out, not traps, are the three projects featured in the following pages: Francisco Mangado’s Congress Center and Hotel in Palma de Mallorca, Amanda Levete’s Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon, and Renzo Piano’s Botín Centre in Santander, a trio of works which brilliantly reconcile the urban demand for permanence with nature’s inexorable state of evanescence. Interestingly, each of these three cases has its own way of striking the balance between the city and the landscape, presenting a graduation or scale of material intensity: solid in the Palma building, firmly anchored to the ground, urban, and in dialogue with the sea only visually; liquid in the Lisbon museum, a construction of undulating forms that brings to mind the flow of the Tagus River; and, finally, gaseous in the Santander center, weightlessly lifted over both the water and the ground, with a skin of pearly discs that merges with the pure atmosphere around.