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Posts tagged ‘Santiago Calatrava’

Valencia (viii) – Day 4: Inventive gothic to unrestrained baroque – architectural gems of the historic centre

It was inevitable that after 3 glorious days of winter sunshine, in which it felt as though we were cheating the seasons and soaring towards a Spring renaissance, Valencia’s skies would darken, the temperatures would drop, and rain would fill the previous blues of the city’s skyline. Unfortunate though this was, it was our day of departure, and having spent a good few hours languishing in our modernista hotel suite, prolonging our stay through a deliberate slow pace of packing, the skies and dried up somewhat by the time we hit the streets again. It was grey, but dry, thus causing no impediment on our final day of sightseeing.

A what a feast of sights we had left till last to see. Largely because of widespread Monday closures, a number of Valencia’s architectural gems had been left for the last day of our visit, gems which sit at either extreme of the city’s historical architectural profile, from the brilliantly inventive, UNESCO protected gothic architecture of La Lonja, to the ridiculously extravagant, utterly unrestrained baroque of the Palacio del Marqués de dos Aquas.

First up, La Lonja de Mercaderes, a gothic chamber of commerce which is one of Valencia’s earliest surviving buildings, and now protected as a treasure of its architectural heritage. The large building was constructed in the early 16th century and was at once a commodity exchange, elementary bank and meeting place for the merchant classes. Many of those meetings would have taken place in the vast Sala de Contratacion, the huge main colonnaded hall which is the unrivaled icon of the historic quarter.

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With its soaring, slim, twisted pillars, curling high like sticks of barley sugar or ropes dangling from the heavens, and the rib-valuted ceiling which those multiple pillars aptly support, the hall is an awe-inspiring site. Little wonder then that this hall is said to have inspired Santiago Calatrava, the home-grown architect of the iconic Ciudad de los artes y ciencias, an inspiration which appears to have manifested itself in the super fine feather-like concrete and steel arches of L’Umbracle and the whale-like rib structure of the Museo de las Ciencias Principe Felipe. Meanwhile, beyond the hall, a small but perfectly formed courtyard makes clear reference to Spain’s Moorish heritage, while up some gorgeously twisting gothic stairs, the Consulado del Mar boasts a similarly elaborate, but more contemporarily gothic wooden ceiling.

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Asides from the inside of La Lonja, we were utterly captivated by the extent of pictorial illustration told through elaborate gothic carvings, gargoyles and other architectural decoration. Just take a look at these few examples of the some of the rich stonemasonry on show.

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Leaving La Lonja and the fragrant scent of its courtyard-filled orange blossom behind, we headed just around the corner to another of Valencia’s architectural icons: the Mercado Central. Built in the very different Modernista style, the building plays host to Europe’s largest fresh produce market. Like a city within a city, the market is a fascinating labyrinth of scintillating smells and visual spectacles, from huge piles of oranges, stacks of spices and a panoply of fresh fish, to row upon row of iberico hams hung alongside fresh chorizo sausage and huge manchego cheeses. Enamored as much by the food as by the elegant modernista design, I took full advantage of the array of produce around us, taking the opportunity to stock up on a supply of pimenton and saffron which I use with abundance in so much of my Spanish-based cooking at home.

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One final stop before a long lunch where we would end up languishing the remainder of the day before our departure home to the UK. Leaving perhaps the most architecturally splendid of Valencia’s historical buildings till last, we headed south of the central cathedral quarter, where our next destination made for a simply unmissable spectacle in the fashionable Calle del Poeta Querol. With its completely over-the-top sumptuous stucco imitation-marble facade, windows literally dripping in the most unrestrained elaborate sculpture and a doorway guarded by a pair of flamboyantly muscled alabaster caryatids, the rococo Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas makes even Barcelona’s Gaudi houses appear conservative.

We weren’t overly sure what the palace was, or how it had come to be decorated in such a lavish display of extravagant eccentricity, other than it was the family home of the Marquis de Dos Aguas who clearly used the exterior of his house to show off the extraordinary extent of his wealth and artistic sensibilities. But the wealth on show externally was perhaps outdone, astonishingly, by the palace’s interiors, so exceptionally richly decorated that this was like a mini-Versailles, unsparing in every detail of its luxury and opulence. Asides from the grandeur on show, the palace also houses a large ceramics collection, paying homage to the great ceramic tradition in the Valencian region. While interesting, the pieces on show were certainly outdone by the incredible surroundings of the palace, and more often than not I found my eyes wondering to the incredible array of excesses all around rather than rest on the ceramics, from Roman to Picasso, which were on offer for our interest.

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Our day ended as all days should – a long indulgent luncheon (which deserves a post all of its own) and a quick perusal of the shopping district on the Calle de Colon. Just as we headed back down into the tube, suitcases and a little shopping in hand, the rain we had thus far dodged started to fall again. Like everything with this Valencia trip, the details all fell into place. The weather was merciful and the city completely inviting. The sights were various, the art plentiful, the old town scenic and the modern alternative a breathtaking diversion. Valencia is now ticked off my list of Spanish must-sees, and if I was tracking my progress down that list with a series of pins of a large map of Spain, I’d place a huge golden star where the pin sticks in Valencia, for a destination worthy of plaudits a plenty, and most certainly a return visit, muy pronto. 

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Valencia (vii) – Photography Focus 3: A tale of two cities

Valencia is a city with many faces, but a clear divide: On the one hand you have Valencia, the shiny, glamorous new modern city, with its sensational innovative Calatrava architecture, glimmering in all its white reflective glory and pushing the city forward into a pioneering new age. It’s the Valencia where all the money has gone, poured in euro-lined gallons like the vast great pools which surround the City of Arts and Sciences. It’s also the Valencia of power: even the older Plaza del Ayuntamiento boasts a conglomeration of statued facades, elaborate tiled domes, and huge soaring art deco architecture. But then again, this is the seat of the Valencian autonomous government.

The seat of modernity and power…

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…versus the old, crumbling historic centre

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But walk a few roads North, to the old historic centre, and you see quite another side to Valencia. It’s the old quaint quarter, where gothic architecture meets baroque, where the tourists cluster around bird-inhabited fountains, and the women of the city perambulate in traditional costume attracting the flashbulbs of visitors fascinated by the spectacle. Yet here, just beyond, and sometimes on the main squares and old streets, there are vast sites of what should be prime realty, reduced to rubble. Large houses and crumbling walls are painted with graffiti and murals, wires hang loosely over houses which have been boarded up and left to disrepair. This is the Valencia where the money has not flowed, where those local funds, poured into modern architectural projects which leak euros in maintenance costs by the day, could have been so beneficially received. And yet this is the historic heart of the city. Why has it been deserted?

In this photographic focus post, I am showing you a selection of my photos which I think demonstrate the contrasts of this city. I start with a gallery of the sleek modern face of the newly developed old Turia river bed, and the grand spectacle of the city’s administrative centre. There is no doubting the splendour of these grandiose, extravagant architectural spectacles, and while one can easily be cynical about the money spent, that does not stop me admiring the quality of the brilliantly executed craftsmanship.

Contrast that gallery with this, photos of the old historic quarter. As with my experience in Lisbon last year, I find the deterioration and degradation of Mediterranean architecture to be as much picturesque and charming as it is sad. What is worrying, and so apparently wasteful, is how many empty plots we walked past in the prime historic quarter, sometimes with just flimsy building facades standing, covered in scaffolding or loose protective netting. I assume developers had once intended to construct something on the site, but as is the experience of so many developers across Spain (whose worst financial casualty of the recent economic crisis has been the construction industry) they simply ran out of money.

What I loved however is the clear, predominance of artistic spirit in these areas. Where empty sites reveal large, blank sides of buildings, street artists have stepped in to create something dynamic with paint and spray cans on that area. These do not blemish these charming streets as normal graffiti would, but rather imbue them with a creative spirit. My particular favourite was the painting on one wall of a tug of war, showing a troupe of men exasperated by the struggle of pulling on their side of the rope – we never find out who was pulling on the other end, that being left to the realms of imagination beyond the end of the wall.

Despite the fact that the modern face of Valencia is now the iconic façade of the city which has been sent out to the world, it’s still the charm of the historic quarter which attracts me the most. A vivacious creative spirit coupled with faded grandeur means that there is so much more to discover in this area than where the confident architectural icons of the new city reign supreme, providing picture-perfect postcard images handed to you on a plate. Despite the apparent lack of investment in the old quarter, it is undoubtedly this area where the heart and soul of Valencia continues to beat.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Valencia (v) – Day 3: Last of the big spenders – Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias

It’s the poster-book image, the flashy, pioneering facade of Valencia which has overtaken all other pictorial references to the city the world across, waving the flag for architectural innovation and groundbreaking artistic grandeur, sweeping the true financial crisis of Spain’s faltering economy beneath its flashy new white reflective surfaces (even though the pure cost of the development undoubtedly punched its own hefty dent in the country’s financial lacuna). The City of Arts and Sciences (La Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias) is the 21st century icon of not only Valencia, but also of Spain, a symbol of the country’s progressive cultural stance, leaping ahead of its European neighbours in architectural skill, innovation, and pure bare-faced audacity.

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Designed by Valencian-born architect Santiago Calatrava in partnership with Spanish architectural great Felix Candela, the arts and sciences city is a town within a town, a giant complex of architectural spectacles devoted to learning, the arts and science, and set within a glittering azure pool in what was once part of the old Turia river. There are some 7 buildings in all, a panoply of differently angled, curved and bombastically arranged shapes in pearly, clean and uninterrupted white, all dappled and reflected by the blues and turquoises of the huge shallow ponds which surround the buildings, and marking a start contrast to the repetitious lines of one cypress tree after another, each neatly trimmed into perfect alignment with the sharply linear and meandering architecture of Calatrava’s creations.

Cypress trees appear to float on water

Cypress trees appear to float on water

Reaching the arts city by bus (bizarrely, despite spending such a stonking amount of money on developing the site, the city is yet to connect it anywhere close to the metro system, and it’s a good 45 minutes walk from the historic centre), we were simply awestruck by the originality and sheer scale and quantity of the architectural feast on show as we drew progressively closer to the complex. Oohs and aahs simply didn’t cut it when these outlandish buildings emerged before us. It felt a little like entering the set of a huge futuristic feature-film, the warm Valencian sunshine being in itself like studio lights, reflected as it was off the dazzling white surfaces of these luminescent  buildings.

Wanting to take in each and every detail of this incredible place, we simple decided to start off at one end and walk to the other, gawping at and admiring each respective architectural masterpiece in turn.

The Palau Reina Sofia

The Palau Reina Sofia

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We began at the  Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, an opera house and performing arts center which, with the capacity for 4,400 spectctors is one of the biggest opera houses in the world, second only in size to the Sydney opera house and containing some 4 auditoriums. Surrounded by some 87,000 square metres of landscape and water, and comprising two huge metal shells weighing over 3,000 tons, the building is like a vast space-age helmet, appearing to float suspended above a sea of disinfectant or other chemical mass. We did however notice that the building, the newest of the complex, is already showing worrying signs of age – the multi-tiled mosaic surface (paying homage to Gaudi) looks as though its cracking and wrinkling all over. Not a good sign for a building which the architect billed some 100million euros for and which cost much, much more to build.

Elegant curved bridge sweeping across the park

Elegant curved bridge sweeping across the park

The opera house is separated from the next building, L’Hemisfèric, by a faultless curving bridge which sweeps with ease and elegance across the large watery space, carrying cars from one side of the old river bank to the other. Meanwhile the Hemisferic is a perfectly rounded glass and silver entertainment venue, part Imax, part planetarium and par laserium (whatever that is). The building is designed to resemble a giant “eye of knowledge”, and when reflected in the watery surrounds makes a perfect oval shape, completing the eye-like illusion. Allegedly the large shutter along its “roof” opens along the curved axis of the “eye” like a large shutter – I wold love to see that in action.

L'Hemisfèric

L’Hemisfèric

Two for the price of one (or possibly not actually...)

Two for the price of one (or possibly not actually…)

The sympathetically designed cafe

The sympathetically designed cafe

Up next was the vast Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, an interactive museum of science that is said to resemble the skeleton of a whale, although the spikey diamond shaped window frames reminded me more of a harlequin. While so many of the buildings in the park were shut to the public, this one was open, and at the cost of only 2 euros extra on top of the vast 22 euros aquarium entrance fee, one could tour around the huge science exhibition in this complex. I have to say, I found it all a bit boring and fragmented – there were plenty of self contained little science exhibits which I’m sure would have been of more interesting for school tours following a specific curriculum. Having said this, it was good to marvel at the space – this vast centre is like an airport terminal with so much wasted space – 220 metres long, it comprises 4,000 panes of glass and is also surrounded by it’s own reflective pools which help to magnify the space yet further, and besides which we stopped for a “pick-me-up” expresso sat on equally contemporary looking white angular chairs.

Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe

Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe

Inside the science museum

Inside the science museum

Stairs leading up to the whale bone structure

Stairs leading up to the whale bone structure

The museum's vast interior space

The museum’s vast interior space

Walking past the science museum one walks either through or under L’Umbracle a feather-resembling landscaped walk way which comprises large super fine archways extending over palms, orange trees, herbs and a plethora of local plant varieties which flourish in this partly protected environment. It amazed me that these tall and slender archways are formed from concrete – they looked so fine and elegant that they appeared feather light, like a hair comb reaching up into the heavens.

L'Umbracle

L’Umbracle

Inside L'Umbracle

Inside L’Umbracle

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We were making our way to the vast aquarium complex at the far end of the park, but before reaching it passed two other sites of significant interest. First,  Assut d’Or, a suspension bridge so fine and tall that it reaches into the sky like a harp, a ship’s sail, or as some would have it, the “ham slicer”. Beyond that was the only blue building of the white series, L’Àgora looking a bit like a ripening fig. We couldn’t tell what it was from the outside, but apparently it’s a covered plaza in which concerts and sporting events are held – another huge space which, I assume, goes unused for much of the year.

Assut d'Or

The fine harp-like shape of Assut d’Or

With L'Àgora and the Science museum in the background

With L’Àgora and the Science museum in the background

L'Àgora

L’Àgora

Already pretty exhausted by all we had seen, but still full of enthusiasm for the pure ingenuity and extra-human scale of the site, we finally made it to L’Oceanogràfic, an open-air oceanographic acquarium-come-park, which is the largest aquarium in Europe, and with 110,000 square meters of space,  42 million liters of water, and a number of different buildings representing different aquatic environments from wetlands and tropical seas to antarctic and the pacific, that statistic does not surprise me. Asides from the incredibly varied array of aquatic species found within the park, it is also notable for having two of my favourite buildings in the whole complex. Both by Felix Candela, they were designed to open out from the ponds surrounding them like waterlillies. With super thin concrete shells looking almost like bonnets shaped around large reflective glass windows, these buildings are particularly elegant and looked wonderful as the backdrop to the vibrant pink flock of flamingos ambling in shallow waters near by.

Waterlily bonnets in L'Oceanogràfic

Waterlily bonnets in L’Oceanogràfic

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So at the risk of simply writing what is already turning into something of a travel guide into the arts and science city, what was our experience of the park? Apart from being frankly overwhelmed by the size, diversity and other-worldliness of the park, it was hard not to explore the complex with a hint of cynicism  and a touch of distaste at the sheer scale of the extravagance and expense which must have been poured out by the Valencian government in order to pay for this development. While much of Valencia’s city centre is left to slowly crumble, and prime sites near the Catedral are lying empty, further out in the far suburbs of the city, we have this mammoth arts and science centre which appears to belong to another age. Whether that age was the time of optimism (or perhaps just naivety) when economies across the world felt that credit was limitless and pursued vastly expensive projects recklessly unchecked, or whether it is a futuristic age when architecture such as this will become more commonplace (and cheaper to build), who knows. However for the present the site is dogged by controversy; because for much of the time it is empty, unused and silent; because it costs more to upkeep everyday than it can possibly make from revenues (even when we were there there were several men in every pond cleaning the waters, trimming the cypress trees and polishing the white surfaces), and because the local funds diverted into the project could have helped so many living under financial straits in the Valencia region.

Flamingo's bask in the sunny L'Oceanogràfic park

Flamingo’s bask in the sunny L’Oceanogràfic park

The park's "Wetlands" structure

The park’s “Wetlands” structure

Yet there can be no doubting the architectural brilliance of what has been achieved here. Such is the extreme of experimentation that it marks a vast contrast to the rest of Valencia’s historical centre. And this isn’t the first time I have seen such innovation in Spain – there’s the titanium-tiled fish-like Guggenheim in Bilbao for example, and the meandering Marquez de Riscal winery building in La Rioja, as well as a number of other examples of pioneering architecture cropping up across Spain, architecture so forward and extreme that its almost as though Spain, still damaged by the shadow of its savage civil war only two generations ago, is trying to shake of the past by surging forward.

But for now at least, that forward pace is necessarily stunted. The Spanish economy is one of the most precariously shaken in Europe, and the unemployment levels (one third of employable Spaniards are currently unemployed) are probably the worst. But in these grim times, at least we have  masterpieces such as these works by Calatrava and Candela to gaze at in admiration, the manifestation of a crazy dream in a now long-lost time when so many of us were dreamers, untouched by the economic crisis which has now taken an irresolute firmhold across the world.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.