When it comes to combine the two sempiternal opposites, such as architecture and nature, we can find infinite attempts in search of the equilibrium, but most of the time they remain just feeble tries on the trend of the moment, as if to put some plants on balconies or to make a hole in the ceiling to permit a tree to grow up could become definitive solutions to this millennial research.
In the case of RCR Arquitectes we are facing an interesting answer with solid roots in the architectural heritage of humankind and with a profound intention of being contextual.
Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramòn Vilalta are the three names under the worldwide known architecture firm and 2017 Pritzker Prize, RCR Arquitectes. In their works, the natural environment is the most fundamental and respected theme, but exactly why for them is it so?
They met each other at the Vallès School of Architecture, where all of them studied, and once finished the university they decided to found their own office in 1988 in an unusual and small town, Olot, a Catalonia’s Gerona province where two of them were born.
The landscape is anything but irrelevant for this little piece of earth in the countryside. It’s the capital of La Garrotxa County which is bounded to the north by the Pyrenees. The valley in which it has developed is crossed by streams of water and covered in meadows and forests of deciduous and evergreen oaks and beech trees. This region is also the result of the actions, during thousands of years, of volcanoes, nowadays dormant, that have left vestiges of lava, scoria and grit, giving us what we can describe as a peculiar and unique topographic condition. The area has been also recognized as a regional park with its 40 volcanoes, its rich relief, its exuberant vegetation and the intense colours of the earth. The landscape is not new even for the art field: the beautiful landscape has been praised by poets and painters, who founded the so-called “Olot School”.
If from one hand, starting from the place in which they grew up, we can have a better understanding of how much nature has been present in their life and why their architecture is a clear expression of their vision through their experiences, from the other hand we have to remember that when we speak about architecture, we are speaking always of something purely artificial, because it’s a concrete product of the mind.
Once Joseph Rykwert (Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania) said:
“The fact is that building (and everything involved in building) is necessarily an act against nature; it is an anti-natural act […].
When someone chooses a site, they separate it from nature.”
So, if it’s not possible to talk about a “natural architecture”, the research in which RCR Arquitectes are involved is about to try to thin the boundary between natural and artificial, by proposing projects that capture and highlight nature, invoke its features and paradoxically act like nature.
The Tussols – Basil athletic stadium in Olot designed in 1991 but built only in 1999-2001 is one of the clearest examples of pure integration into the landscape. They describe the project in this way:
“In this natural setting, the athletics track allows the existing natural values to be emphasized and draws the races closer to nature.”
Here they have followed the development of the park, with intellectual respect for what there was before their arrival, designing the track and the pavilions where there was already enough space and trying almost to make them disappear in the landscape. Just one material has been chosen for everything, floors, walls and ceilings, a cor-ten steel.
In the Pedra Tosca park instead, collocated in the Natural Park of the Garroxta Volcanic Zone in Les Preses, near Olot, they have searched for the most suggestive spot which also could increase the awareness of the visitor on the place he is entering: the rock sea.
This area was produced partially by the basaltic wash off from the Croscat volcano, and partially by the arduous work of man in his fight to cultivate a small portion of land by leveling and accumulating all the rocks, stones and pebbles in wide walls, tombs, and barracks.
They have been influenced considerably by the world of art, in particular by the painter Pierre Soulages, for whom they have designed the Soulages Museum in Rodez, France. He is considered as the painter who reinvented light on the basis of the colour black, expressing specific rhythms that he defines as nothing but “the pulsation of forms in space, which are cut in space by time“. The museum is the conversion in reality of this thought with a rhythmic division in multiple linked pavilions, cut in space by the time of contemplation of his works exposed inside.
The public space of the Espai pùblic La Lira is the built idea of the concept of double aperture: it frames a particular panorama, permitting the access from the suspended bridge and it becomes a filter between two spaces. In the restaurant Les Cols in Olot, the house-restaurant opens up in two opposing directions, letting the space flow through the house to create an exterior/interior/exterior continuity. The building is not an interposed obstacle in the space in which it is located, but rather the contrary, it becomes a gateway, a threshold between two different connected worlds: human and nature.
Their architecture is an experience that mixes interior and exterior through rhythm, light and materials. It’s a concrete expression of the abstract thought towards a new possible formal language, confirming the fact that it’s still possible to find new ways to express what is most important for people: an intention to reach the perfect equilibrium.
– RCR Arquitectes, El Croquis 138
– RCR Arquitectes, El Croquis 162
– RCR Arquitectes, El Croquis 190
– A+U 542 2015:11 RCR Arquitectes – Journey
– A+U 549 2016:06 RCR Arquitectes – Works
– RCR Arquitectes – Complete Works, AV Monograph, 2017, pp.240