August 1, 2011

Industrial Strength: Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos Envisions a Park-Museum in Spain

“A museum-park or a park-museum” is how Fuensanta Nieto and Enrique Sobejano say they imagined the Museo Interactivo de la Historia de Lugo, built near the historic center of that city in Galicia, in the northwestern reaches of Spain. Nieto and Sobejano defend their unlikely vision—of intersecting silos surfacing on a grassy knoll—as being the result of designer’s intuition. However, they counterbalanced this seeming folly by tightly analyzing the site and program. Their 116,000-square-foot solution cleverly combines two function zones: a museum and visitor center, illu­minated through circular courtyards, and a garage, entirely buried.

This isn’t the first subterranean project for Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos—its elegant limestone Museo Madinat Al-Zahra in Córdoba won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture. In Lugo, visitors meander downward to the museum’s entry courtyard. It all looks very elegant and simple. To pull off this trick, however, Nieto and Sobejano had to move a lot of earth. Using their 3-D computer-generated construction documents, the contractor excavated the area, poured concrete slabs and posts, and laid fireproofed steel joists for a green “roof” at ground level.

“In some cases, a smaller cylinder hangs from a larger one to define a space and create tension between what’s buried and what’s unburied,” Nieto says. Below-grade, the cylinders are bare concrete. Above-ground, some are concrete clad in Cor-Ten steel panels; others are steel framing wrapped in Cor-Ten mesh, like the exoskeleton of a holding tank. Nieto and Sobejano see the rusty patina as a perfect complement to the park’s greenery, so they used the familiar industrial metal for practically every exterior element, including a helical stair and lawn edging.

By night, fluorescent tubes and HID lamps inside the mesh-wrapped cylinders turn them into mammoth lanterns. By day, it’s Richard Serra meets Roman ruin, echoing the famous turrets encircling the center of Lugo since the third century AD. 

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