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Urban Beach

Part 2 Project 1998
Patrick O'Sullivan
London Metropolitan University, UK
Urban Beach
The site is that of the 1929 Barcelona Expo and the Mies van der Rohe pavilion situated at the foot of Montjuic where it meets the plane of Barcelona. The scheme concerns itself with the relationship of hill and plane, opening up the neo-classical space in front of the pavilion, cutting away the veneer of the existing platform allowing the surrounding road space to flow across the natural topography of the sedimentary plane - forming an 'urban beach'. The backdrop of a new 'harbour wall' once again makes distinct the threshold of mountain and plane, a balcony to the city.

The asphalt beach forms an urban free space, a flexible joint between the city and Montjuic. This space is organised by concrete 'groyne' structures which maintain the datum of the pavilion's podium and obviate the flow of the surface beneath. Infrastructural ‘rafts' inhabit the spaces between allowing for growth of activity and occupation. They provide a minimal armature, a level of specificity of place balanced with an indeterminacy of future use.

Drainage channels follow the contours of the new surface maintaining the profile. Their performance is enhanced by bands of permeable asphalt like a drawing of the space. Above is a horizontal datum made with clusters of blue photovoltaic cells extenuating the plane of the podium of the Barcelona Pavilion creating a watery space beneath.
Patrick O'Sullivan

A sea of tarmac with architectural rafts and a rampart wall.

Patrick O'Sullivan's project is perhaps the most difficult and most risky of the final year proposals this year - difficult to accept its constructive rigour, and risky in its uncompromising intellectual and material conception.

Students in the unit worked with the site and brief of the international architectural ideas competition for the design of a building to house the Mies van der Rohe Foundation in the vicinity of the Barcelona Pavilion organised by Editorial Gustavo Gili, Barcelona.
The competition brief challenged the participants to invent contemporary interpretations and conceptions of open space which are as fresh and as delightful as the pavilion itself. The dominating oppressiveness and grand size of the neoclassical 1929 exhibition architecture where the pavilion is located, and the task of working in the vicinity of perhaps the most enduring and important piece of 20th Century architecture was an enormous challenge. The word architecture seems to be too old and tired to describe the Barcelona Pavilion. The word building seems not to be appropriate either - no gutters, no flashings, no threshold, the outside comes into the inside, there is water inside, the thing has no purpose and is of no obvious use. It is an enigma.

After careful investigations of the larger space of the Montjuic mountain and its presence in the geography and geology of Barcelona and the sea coast. Before thinking of a building design, students worked on remaking of the ground in the vicinity of the pavilion as a redesign of its topography by revealing the architecture of its geology. Patrick proposed one of the most radical transformations of the site, which is at the same time perhaps the most invisible, the calmest, and the most elegant.

The spatial conception in this project is given by the strong material presence of a huge asphalt public floor. Material specificity comes from the surrounding conditions and history of stone quarrying on the mountain. A fluid sea of tarmac extends the slope and topographical contour of the adjacent tarmac street as it rises up the mountain past the pavilion. Usual preconceptions are abolished concerning the lecture, exhibition, and research program requirements given in the brief for the Foundation. Patrick suggests a radical departure from the usual museum-like highly environmentally controlled interior one might expect. Can a contemporary exhibition venue at the beginning of the 21st Century be located in a place with exterior qualities common to a street or a car park? Such an open and actively changing exterior domain could simultaneously allow a new privateness. Laid into this sea of tarmac, are a series of built structures designed to retain a programmatic indeterminacy, an enigmatic uselessness.
These minimum infrastructural elements allow potential for change, variety and diversity of built form and use in the future. Time is made visible in architecture.

The importance of this project is that it uses immediate and material specific constructive means to refer to the larger scale, the larger gaze, and in this way achieve a new architecture of emptiness.

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