This early project by RCR Arquitectes had not been widely published. Only a small image in the introductory essay of issue 549 of A+U gave me a clue for finding it.
The Garrotxa Region is famous for its rich volcanic landscapes with the fertile soil supporting a beech forest that attracts many people to walk along one of the many tracks. At this site the visitor will find some early explorations into materiality by RCR Arquitectes, where they push the built form to be one with the landscape – dark and brooding. The path up from the carpark has a low stone wall and steel plate balustrade on one side, with a thick rubber capping.
At the top of the rise is the first view of the ‘Entrance Pavilion to la Fageda d’en Jordà, Garrotxa Volcanic Zone National Park’, a building that straddles the path, acting as a subtle gateway, while also housing the toilets, café with storage, and an information kiosk, for people embarking on one of those volcanic walks.
At first, the design appears quite simple with a thin roof supported by basic block forms, however the geometry subtlely shifts as one walks around the building, revealing hidden details and a more complex composition of sculpted forms, built up from a simple plan.
Raw plate steel (often deliberately allowed to rust) is the major material in a dark brown-black colour, for sections of walls, roof and even the floor surface outside, with additional steel and timber elements.
RCR Arquitectes description of the project:
‘A garden dramatises fragments of nature under its own laws in a defined, measurable space. The site is a historic remnant of land lying between the old cart track from Olot to Santa Pau and the new road for cars. The design is for a reception and entrance area into the Fageda de Jordà, a beech forest lying at the exceptional height of 500-600 metres above sea level thanks to the particular contours and the volcanic subsoil in the heart of the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Nature Park. A parking area, a forest as a recreational area, a meeting point and the volcanic garden: a set of terraces made of volcanic slag in different colours and sizes descending like lava from a culminating point overlooking the forest – a maze of light and shadow. The lintel/roof is suspended over two elements that open and close to gather a toilet block, a tavern, a storeroom and an information post. Two materials, wood and steel, rust and black like masses of slag spread out over a stony, almost basaltic floor.’
The bathrooms are cleverly composed and practical with a hint of Maison de Verre in the materiality and detail. Translucent glass panels face a hidden courtyard, allowing natural light into the deliberately dark spaces, with the glass panels lifted off the floor allowing for natural cross-ventilation and drainage.
Apart from the peeling paint on the ceilings, the building has generally weathered very well after 20 years.
The biggest surprise are the upper exterior cladding panels. What at first appears to be pressed-metal, is really patterned plywood, probably the result of finding a less costly substitute for metal. While this has deteriorated in one area, on the whole it too has held up exceptionally well over such a long time.
This is an architectural language that has searched for an appropriate combination of form, use and raw, tough materiality to bring an architecture with new meaning to this site, this landscape, and this region of Spain.
The project can now be see in the RCR Publication by Arquitectura Viva, 2017.
Photographer: Stephen Varady
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