Rocks, by Mazzanti
What a great surprise, this beautiful design in Colombia by architect Giancarlo Mazzanti! I bet it will feature in all international magazines in the coming months. Really!
The contrast with the landscape, the ‘Biblioteca Parque Espana’ sits in, certainly contributes massively to its beauty. In the green landscape with only beige colored low-rise self-built dwellings the library rises up eight stories, clad in black natural stone.
It’s a temporal clarity, as I suppose future prosperity will bring more buildings that will puncture this sea of low-rise housing. It’s an example par excellence of a contemporary monument, an icon.
It is absolutely fascinating how the building is positioned in the city: up on the hill. It is not the views from the building to the valley below that are significant, it’s the other way around: this building is seen from all around.
Aldo Rossi describes in his famous book ‘Architectura della Città’ how the long axes in Rome have been designed to end at the monuments in the city. It is a great concept that absolutely does work to create a hierarchy in the city and to underline the special position of the monuments in it.
But when visiting Rome a couple years ago, I found that the metro-network and automotive-network create a totally different hierarchy in the city, a network contradictory to the one created by the axes.
By exploiting the landscape Giancarlo Mazzanti ensures the visibility of his building, in a far more sustainable way. In Rome the axes had to be cut through the existing fabric, as Haussmann also did in Paris. For this library the landscape already ‘naturally’ provides that structure.
Instead of a road axis, a cable car connects the valley with the library. How brilliant is that! The cable cars silently float over the city, needing only some masts to keep it all up. It’s a very clean way of transport too, I think. The major and only disadvantage of such cable car system is that it mostly only connects two points…
Evocating on the concept it is not that hard to image a city where the icons, all positioned at high points in the landscape, are connected by a cable car network.
A less probable scenario is that in a flat city a cable car network would interconnect iconic high-rises - similar to the way the Trump Hotel on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai arches over the monorail there.
The idea that the landscape makes the icon what it is can be traced back to one of the first icons around: the Sydney Opera House. Not located centrally in the city, but highly visible from the city because of its location on the waterfront.
As the Sydney Opera House, the Biblioteca Parque Espana is highly iconographic, and in its iconography highly contextual. Whereas the abstracted sails of the Sydney Opera House point to the boats in the harbor, the abstracted rock-formation of the Biblioteca points to the material the landscape is made of.
A comparable iconography is featured in the tower Jean Nouvel is designing for the city of Vigo in Spain. That ‘rock’ also relates to the rock-landscape. And does anybody remember the design Jean Nouvel made for the Guggenheim Museum in Guadalajara in Mexico? Is exactly like this library!
Well, almost. The Biblioteca and the Guggenheim-design both seem to refer to Basalt rock. But the design by Nouvel emphasizes the solidness of the volume. Instead, Mazzanti here has designed an incredible thin skin. From a distance the buildings still looks solid, but closer one finds that the skin is just a thin drape. With this Mazzanti intelligently questions the iconography, providing the building with a pregnant layering.
The architecture of the windows is a story in itself. By placing them in the surface of the ‘rock’ in a pattern without a relation to the position of the floors inside, the windows become like a contamination of the rock. Rocks often are like that, contaminated with layers of various materials.
Here this ‘contamination’ is echoed in the materialization of the skin. The stones that are used are not everywhere the same, but are differentiated in color and reflective properties. The random pattern of silvery pieces in the black stone skin is doubled on the scale of the façade as a whole with the scattered windows.
The thinness of the façade is made possible by a set of steel bars that take all forces on the façade to the main structure. That structure is square and reminded me to the analyses Greg Lynn once wrote on the Statue of Liberty: the freeform skin of the statue is internally brought back to a simple rectangular standing tube of trusses. The Biblioteca is also made like that: the skin is separated from the bones.