A New Auditorium in Spain Brings Redemption to Pop Architecture

Kelly Chan Kelly Chan

Last month, the illustrious Niemeyer Center closed its doors, joining the ranks of the half-built or barely used buildings that have become Spain’s new ruins. That the country’s economic recession is so intimately tied to its construction boom and bust has made architecture not only a dramatic barometer but also a symbolic culprit of Spain’s bleak state of affairs. The self-serving construction developments that sapped the government of its wealth now stand shamefully abandoned, and these unused roads, vacant apartments, and lifeless mega-structures are seen as the physical manifestations of the country’s general social unrest.

In Murcia, a coastal region in Southern Spain, a drab landscape of empty, cheap brick buildings provides a bleak backdrop for its inhabitants, who face soaring unemployment rates, a collapsed real estate market, and resource shortages. But as Domus reports, Murcia has recently become the site of a new 18,500-square-meter seaside auditorium and conference hall that has brought renewed hope for pop architecture in its truest sense, as architecture built for the people.

The auditorium sits at the end of the Paseo Alfonso XII seafront boulevard in Cartagena, Murcia’s second largest city. Respectful of the site, the building’s boxed forms blend effortlessly into the surrounding landscape of shipping containers, piers, cranes and various seaport infrastructures. The architects behind the design, José Selgas and Lucía Cano of SelgasCano, used locally sourced materials brought together with low-tech solutions, allowing them to keep costs low and construct a building that springs from ingenuity and resourcefulness over a more hedonistic fervor for high design.

The architects’ low-cost approach was certainly not at the expense of innovative design: the building’s exterior consists of a double façade of translucent extruded polycarb panels that reveal the building’s metallic core while delighting passersby with sporadic moments of neon. The façade’s undulating heights and playful mixture of textures and opacities immediately breathe life into the seafront paseo.

Color becomes a salient design feature in the interior as well as the exterior, immersing visitors in emotive landscapes of vivacious orange hues or tranquil shades of blue. The rigid geometries of the exterior give way to fluid spaces in the interior, which are loosely carved out with hovering stairwells and delightfully abstract interior topographies showcasing a mélange of materials from rubber to plexiglass to textured concrete. Details such as hanging chairs and benches and cheerfully dated light fixtures add a generous dose of playfulness while eschewing kitsch.

As Domus editor Mario Ballesteros described the building: “Everything comes together in rhythmic crescendos of color and shine. A certain joy pervades the whole interior, in a way that remains true to the beach origins of the site—just like the exterior does to the butch straightforwardness of the port.” The building embodies a distinctly Spanish sense of quirk, an ability to dazzle and surprise that comes from a warm and genuine place. Moreover, the architecture extends itself to the service of the people as a complex object not meant to lure and attract but to be occupied and enjoyed.

[All images © Iwan Baan, via Domus]