Monday, March 19, 2012

La Lira

La Lira in Ripoll, Spain by RCR Arquitectes / Joan Puigcorbé, 2011

I'm not overly familiar with the work of Spain's RCR Arquitectes -- the firm of Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta -- but if this pedestrian bridge and public space in Ripoll is any indication, I have a new favorite architect. La Lira Theater Public Space, as the project is called in a 2008 El Croquis devoted to their work, inserts itself boldly into a gap in the Catalonian town's urban fabric, bridging the Ter River and linking to a small public space/parking lot on the east.

At first glance what is striking about the intervention is the way it fills a gap with a void instead of a solid. Openings on the east and west respectively frame the town (building facades) and the river (trees and buildings on the other side). The architects basically line the space between existing buildings along the river, covering the floor, walls, and roof with Cor-ten steel, solid underfoot but spaced on the sides and above to admit light into the dark space. This choice of material, which extends to the various surfaces of the pedestrian bridge, gives the insertion an aged appearance. Therefore the alien presence is at home with the deteriorating neighbors.

From the east, across the Ter River, the project presents an image that is at once intimidating yet inviting. A dark space framing the buildings beyond is reminiscent of Anish Kapoor's large-scale installations that act like a vortex. In Ripoll the destination is not so mysterious, but the experience of crossing the bridge and traversing the space is heightened by the articulation of the different elements. The pedestrian bridge is basically a two-sided treatment: solid on the north and picketed on the south; this applies to both the guardrails and the walking surface. Benches peel up from the dividing line to make the bridge a spot to stop and take in the view to the south.

Arriving at the covered public space, it's apparent that the kinks of the walls do not follow the adjacent buildings; they create interstitial zones that are home to vegetation that is leaking through the gaps between the vertical slats. A lower solid zone -- Cor-ten on the north and butt-glazed glass on the south -- creates a datum line that gives a subtle sense of scale to the large space. This porous insertion in a historical fabric is an interesting precedent for filling a gap in a townscape. Here's hoping the residents find a suitable use for the space, be it for performance as apparently intended, or something else fitting its location and rusty wrapper.

Thanks to Eugeni Pons for the use of his photographs.