The World in Your HandsDecember 13, 2011
Book Review: The DovekeepersJanuary 6, 2012
During my November trip to Spain, I visited A Cidade da Cultura de Galicia, the large arts complex in Santiago de Compostela that opened earlier this year—though I use the word “opened” a little loosely; after 10 years and 400 million euros (about $560 million USD), the massive project is still not close to completion, with only two of the six planned buildings debuting last January. (Given the economic crisis that Spain is currently facing, it seems unlikely that the so-called “city of culture” will be populated any time soon.)
And even though the museum portion of the complex can be visited as part of a tour (along with the library and cultural archive), there’s no art yet on display.
Despite all of this, A Cidade da Cultura is still an impressive achievement. Designed by American architect Peter Eisenman, the granite, stone, and glass behemoth reminds me of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, in that both structures are themselves more of a draw than anything they contain.
Built into the side of a mountain overlooking the city, the footprint of A Cidade da Cultura traces the map of the Santiago’s casco viejo (old district), right down to the paths laid out in granite on the floor, their placement and shape mimicking that of the city’s narrow streets and alleyways. In the library area, no two bookshelves are the same height or shape; instead, the top of each unit echoes the undulating ceiling above it.
The layout of the complex and Santiago’s casco viejo
The library’s ceiling
When seen from the center of town, the complex appears to hug the mountain, and it resembles the shell of a scallop, an evocation that is no accident. The scallop is the symbol of Saint James for whom the city is named, and the mollusk is displayed everywhere in Santiago—most commonly, on the bodies of the thousands of pilgrims who arrive there on foot, having walked all the way from the French border to reach the city’s cathedral (where it’s said Saint James’ bones are buried). These men and women wear scallop shells on cords around their necks or tie them to their walking sticks, as an homage to the saint they have trekked hundreds of miles to reach.
The view from town
Considered the third city of Christendom (after Jerusalem and Rome), Santiago is already a religious destination, and if you ask me, A Cidade da Cultura is about to make the city a pilgrimage site for architecture students and design buffs alike.
Intentional juxtaposition of nature and manmade structure?
Or did the builders not grout this area yet?
A Cidade da Cultura, at dusk
For more information, visit the official website for A Cidade da Cultura.