Metropol Parasol

December 5, 2011

Essay by Ethel Baraona Pohl from dpr-barcelona with photographs by Antonio Rull.


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17M in Seville, Spain. © Antonio Rull.

Current worldwide movements related with occupying public space are leading architects to re-think the relationship between our practice and public space. Reinhold Martin says that is also important to note that urbanistic—and to a lesser extent, architectural—considerations have played a key role in the physical occupation of prominent sites in cities and towns.1

We have referred recently to the Metropol Parasol as a megastructure, due to its large scale and the philosophy behind the project.2 The idea of relating Jürgen Mayer’s project with those years of avant-garde architecture is reinforced by the fact that you never know if an utopian project will really work or not, and part of its value lies in the immanent presence of a poetic approach. A few months ago, we wrote about the project:

Having visited the city of Seville and experiencing the space of Plaza de la Encarnación, my immediate reaction was that we must strive to see the present objectively from the perspective of the future, resisting the urge to look to the past from the viewpoint of the present. The forces of retrospection indicated by Gilles Ivain already exist, and always will, but so does our ability to imagine and define the future.3

But just two weeks before, the Metropol Parasol became the urban scenario of the massive protest related with the so-called movement #spanishrevolution or Movimiento 15M and, as Francisco González de Canales wrote, “Jürgen Mayer’s ‘mushrooms’ were converted, as if by magic, into the city’s public space par excellence—a space within which the political exists as a public expression of the plurality of the people within it.”4 5 So that requested objectivity, guided by the forces of retrospection, suddenly appeared and we just felt that the future was here in less than two weeks.

At this point, it’s interesting to rethink our perception of the project and the time we supposed was needed to understand it. The feeling of appropriation that suddenly emerged on the same people who had criticized the project drives us directly to think on the concept of aberration, defined as “The act of wandering; deviation […] The producing of an unintended effect.”6 Even if Mayer’s aim wasn’t focused in creating a public space of political demands, the concept of ‘agora’ (which exists in the origin of each project dedicated to public space) has reached its peak here. The scale of the project and its central location at Plaza de la Encarnación, which was once the intersection between the cardus and decumanus of the Roman city, are main facts that explain why people chose this site for the demonstrations.

In Vladimir Belogolovsky’s interview, Jürgen Mayer explains that the patterns he uses on his designs are at the same time envelopes and containers of spaces and are used to highlight ambivalent border situations between inside and outside. Can we perceive these characteristics on the Metropol Parasol? Maybe the answer is yes. The spatial possibilities that we can see on ‘the mushrooms’ are so diverse that the message behind the project talks about flexibility. That is why the appropriation of it by the local people for the protest emerged spontaneously, like if the project had been built especially for that purpose. It relates directly to Mayer’s words to Belogolovsky, “What I try to achieve in my work is to use it as a medium to create spaces that go beyond programmatic needs.”

Reaching this point, we want to stop, think and be critical, when the economic crisis and political problems currently beleaguering Spain have made this project the focus of intense controversy. Within the present climate of deep economic recession, the project (which the variations in its budget have made it seem all but impossible a few years ago) became the urban stage for people who were protesting exactly against the kind of expenses it represents: the misuse of economic resources by politicians and bankers. Therefore, can we say that the Metropol Parasol became real architecture by the appropriation of the people?

Before May 2011, people criticized the project as a manifestation or personification of Mayer’s own ideals and focused on it as “pure formalism.” But Alexander D’Hooghe pointed out in his article “A Theory of the New Monumentality” that formalism has been deeply misunderstood, when thinking that it refers to the celebration of shapes without meaning, and he adds, “In fact, formalism implies the exact opposite. It implies that a form contains its own content […] for it contains itself an idea, and organizational monad, a basic scheme of thought.”7

We can read in the same article that if the crisis is not new, neither is the project it calls up. Thinking in these terms, we can easily define the Metropol Parasol as a “project of the crisis,” as it represents all the issues that people are complaining about now, but at the same time, while appropriated by citizens, it represents a “center of resistance”: a sort of physical manifestation of social indignation and reaction.

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Plaza de la Encarnación. May 19 2011. © Antonio Rull.

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“There is no lack of money. There is an excess of thieves.” © Antonio Rull.