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Arrive Without Travelling

Part 2 Project 2001
Michael Cunniff
Manchester School of Architecture, UK

The brief for the project was to design a British Embassy building within the old town quarter of Barcelona. The building should carry out all the customary roles of an embassy building while being sympathetic to the host creating a two-way integration of nations.

The project continues to investigate the potential of architectural layering at all scales, ranging from spatial layers that overlap programmes and merge public and private realms, to producing layered facades that merge the internal and exterior environments reintroducing physical and emotional links between inside and out, reinterpreting and integrating traditional methods of environmental control in a contemporary language.

The scheme also examines the notions of globalisation, trying to consider a nation’s position within a so-called nation-less globalised world, questioning a national’s identify and looking at the possible manifestations these issues have on embassy design.

The project starts by examining the context of the city of Barcelona, its geography, climate and historical development. Trying to understand how and why the city was formed? Looking at the evolution of vernacular typologies and understanding how these typologies functioned environmentally and socially. Then the study shifted to look at the implementation of the famous Cerda grid and the reasons for its creation (environmental, social and economic) and the effect on the city and resulting typologies.

The focus of enquiry then narrowed to investigate the old Ravel Quarter district of the old town, which is the immediate context for the site, again the study initially focused on typologies. With the clear difference between the old town and Cerda grid apparent, an initial interest was to investigate how the two different elements of the city fused together, producing either rigid or adaptive ‘typology collisions’.

These collisions on a macro scale were also apparent within the micro configurations of the site; the site is in the heart of the old quarter of the city, however, the traditional typologies are predominately only on one side of the site, with modern interventions dominating the other side. The site is in effect sandwiched between the two differing typologies, therefore one of the major issues in an urban sense was how to deal with this change in typology, create a clear division or become adaptive, stitching the two elements of the city together.

In order to provide a solution to this urban transition, the study involved the distillation of the two typologies into simplified characteristics, which could be used as a tool to enable the proposition to stitch the urban context together. (Traditional characteristics: Façade, Route and Node and the contemporary characteristics consisting of Landscape, Object and Square.)

This resulted in a building volume that reacts to the totally different urban conditions within the immediate proximity, characterised by medieval routes and elevations of the old town and the monumentally of the contemporary interventions. The building volume tries to repair the existing city block, simultaneously connecting the two differing site typologies together, combining the characteristics that make up the two sides of the site, providing routes between the two, bridging the typological gap.

The building proposal established two physical propositions; the external platonic form of the external skin that responds to the urban massing requirements of the site and the internal plastic mass that is a product of the programme and the interplay between the chancery and consular spaces.

The starting point was the concept of an embassy volume floating above the landscape; effectively having an element of ‘British-ness’ hovering, plugging into the Spanish context below when it saw fit. The two elements would become intertwined, both manipulating each other. Elements from the embassy drop down and meet the landscape and the landscape rises up to meet the embassy. The public consular spaces could be located below the private detached chancery functions that floated above. This interplay would entirely take place within the volume of the external envelope with interstitial spaces providing public routes and hospitality functions. This strategy would produce an effective layering of programme creating spaces that provide a visual, social and physical overlap, playing on the metaphor of two countries coming together producing a hybrid space or product.

The interplay between the two volumes and the juxtaposing of mass and transparency also plays on the notions of globalisation and the many paradoxes this may manifest. The two volumes work together to continually give a distorted impression of the activities and forms that exist within the building. The form of the external skin integrates itself within its urban context, while the materials it consists of distort the internal elements simultaneously reflecting its surroundings. The internal volumes behind the skin seem to disregard many external influences responding seemingly entirely to programme, however, are constructed in heavy materials that evoke the colours and textures of the local vernaculars. The building effectively represents the conditions of the globalised world and paradoxes that exist within it – establishing similarities between elements and then being reactionary to this, identifying differences that exist between the two; producing disillusionment or confused identify.

Michael Cunniff

Mike’s thesis is a bioclimatic tour de force, where place and climate combine to produce a complex but appropriate form.

The Raval district of Barcelona is contextually complex, with competing generators criss-crossing the area, leading to an urban opacity that belies its location. Mike started with an idea of Force Domains – an analogy for the contextual pressures that various generators – path, node, grid, sun etc - place on the site. These domains bend and fold the landscape of the site. Above this, untouched, hovers the programmatic form of the Embassy and Consulate , pure function and oblivious to the context and climate.

This programmatic form and contextual landscape is wrapped in a minimalist climatic modifier, that creates a unity between the elements. This wrapper conceals and reveals the covert and overt functions of the programme and gives options for passive cooling and natural ventilation within.

The Embassy is what it should be – a Synergy of Catalunya and Britain, each separate within, but impossible to divide, yet a whole from the outside, protected from the Catalan climate.

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