Seville’s iconic “Metropol Parasol” project confirms the city’s standing as one of Spain’s major cultural destinations. Its site, Plaza de la Encarnacion, is set to become Seville’s new urban hub, a unique space enclosed by a dense medieval urban fabric and offering a wide variety of activities for tourists and local inhabitants. The programme includes an underground archaeological site and museum, an elevated plaza with, at one end, a farmers’ market and, in other sections, a series of bars, restaurants and other environments for socialisation, all shielded by striking parasol structures also containing a panoramic terrace on the very top.
Placed in the heart of the old town, the new infrastructure stands as a wholly appropriate 21st century landmark. Providing shade during the day and shelter at night, the parasols bring together cultural activities (the museum and archaeological site) with the everyday business of a bustling city (a farmers’ market recalling the city’s close links to its agricultural hinterland).
The floorplan under the parasols is arranged so that the stalls can be closed at night when the square comes alive with people enjoying leisure activities, shows and live entertainment amidst the bars and restaurants on the ground floor and upper levels of the parasols. The elevated plaza becomes a central stage on which a host of activities are played out day and night against the backdrop of a vibrant 24-hour urban setting.
Built in polyurethane-coated timber, the parasols are contemporary landmarks firmly and symbolically grounded in an ancient site. The imposing columns are the points of access to the underground museum as well as the upper platforms. Here the architectural proposal doubles the original area to create an additional 4500 sq m of high-quality programmable space.
Apertures on the upper platform create a visual connection with the area below while water basins in selected areas further enhance the microclimate making this upper level conducive to relaxation and socialization. The spectacular view of the city from the panoramic platform further links the new monument to its environment.
At ground level the new construction follows the lay of the original square and bus corridor, emphasising spatial continuity, a feature further highlighted by the use of distinctive tiling throughout the site.
On the construction side, Metropol Parasol took its cue from the Mensa Project. While the lower levels are steel and concrete and the restaurant in the parasol rests on concrete shafts and a steel substructure to comply with fire regulations, the parasols themselves are in laminated timber. This was the material that came out top when measured against a raft of constraints including strict prefabrication, maintenance, cost and life span requirements, and fire, earthquake and traffic load regulations. Thanks to the strides made in building technology, laminated wood is now a high-tech construction material. Choosing this material was, I believe, along with the cultural, social and political aspects of the project, why we were awarded the 2005 Holcim Europe Bronze Award for our Metropol Parasol.