The architecture produced by the RCR team (Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramón Vilalta) is always very close to nature: it tries to capture and highlight it, invoke its features, and even act like nature. It may be said that the members of RCR regard architecture as a mediation between man and nature, a device for transmitting the natural world’s attributes and values to the human being who perceives and experiences this architecture.

“Art (and by extension architecture) must have begun with nature itself, as a relationship between the human being and nature, from which we cannot be separated”.

“The fact is that building, 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”.

The architecture produced by the RCR team (Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramón Vilalta) seems to correspond faithfully to the first of these two disparate quotes. It is always very close to nature: it tries to capture and highlight it, invoke its features, and even act like nature. On the other hand, as we know, the production of architecture, building, is, as Joseph Rykwert says, an anti-natural act and architecture is an artifice, an artificial fact, a product of our minds that is subject to its own formative rules. It may be said that the members of RCR regard architecture as a mediation between man and nature, a device for transmitting the natural world’s attributes and values to the human being who perceives and experiences this architecture. In these architects, however, this approach to nature has revealed different aspects in the course of their long career, which may generally be expressed through a series of opposing terms.

This receptive attitude towards the landscape and nature in general has not arisen by chance in the case of Aranda, Pigem and Vilalta. All three studied at the Vallés School of Architecture, a higher learning institution where, as they recall, particular attention was paid to the landscape-related aspects of design. Although two of them —Carme Pigem and Ramón Vilalta— maintained their connection to the school as lecturers for several years, when they graduated they decided to set up their studio in Olot, a town in Catalonia’s Gerona province where two of them were born (Ramón Vilalta was born in Vic, in the neighbouring Barcelona province). The natural environment is by no means irrelevant to Olot, the capital of the La Garrotxa county which is bounded to the north by the Pyrenees. Its beautiful landscape has often been praised by poets and painters, who formed the ‘Olot school’. This small town is part of a landscape proliferated with valleys, crossed by streams and covered in meadows and forests of deciduous and evergreen oaks and beech trees. Its volcanic character is particularly prominent as a result of a number of volcanoes that have been dormant for several thousand years but which have left vestiges of lava, scoria and grit, giving rise to its peculiar, unique topographic conditions. With 40 volcanoes, this area is now a Regional Park, “a landscape with a rich relief, exuberant vegetation and the intense colours of the earth’.

TOPOGRAPHY: ADAPTATION AND CONTRAST

This characteristic topography is one of the landscape themes that has inspired the architecture of RCR since their first projects. The Tussols Basil athletics stadium in Olot, designed in 1991 but not built until 1999-2001, is the clearest example of integration into the landscape. As the authors themselves explain, “In this natural setting, the athletics track allows the existing natural values to be emphasised and draws the races closer to nature”. The rows of seats draw topographic lines, perceived as terraces that strengthen the natural embankments. Several coppices remain inside the race circuit, with which the blanket of vegetation spilling between the interior and the exterior is enhanced. The operation on Pedra Tosca Park in Les Preses, just outside Olot, has an even deeper landscape connotation. As the project summary explains, this project essentially revives a natural/artificial landscape in which the most visible operation consists of creating an unroofed entrance precinct that is dug into the mass of volcanic stone. The powerful triangular geometry of the entrance and its corten steel sheet walls contrast with the park’s apparent naturalness. On the Bell-Lloc Cellars property in Palamós, Gerona, the partly fulfilled proposal involves its deurbanisation. The aim here is to return it to its state prior to several ‘improvements’, removing walls, floors and added vegetation, which is restored to its original natural state. The cellars themselves are dug into the ground and covered by the vines. Two quite recent projects are also set in the ground in order to respect the landscape. In PGA Golf Catalunya in Caldas de Malavella, Gerona, the rows of garages and houses follow the undulating topography and make use of the contours for their partial burial. For the Entrance pavilion for the Ullastret archeological site, Gerona, the architects have designed an elongated prismatic piece which barely emerges from the natural ground level. The building is in a similar position to the adjacent ruins, and receives natural lighting through a series of perforations in its roof plane. These perforations are different in plan and section, creating diverse top lighting effects that characterise each space.

More works:

LA LIRA THEATRE in RIPOLL | RCR Architects

TUSSOLS-BASIL TRACK + FIELD STADIUM IN OLOT | RCR Architects

ENTREMUROS HOUSE IN OLOT | RCR Architects

 

The article is extracted from the Magazine El Croquis N.138 – RCR Arquitectes whose author is Juan Antonio Cortés.

Juan Antonio Cortés Vázquez de Parga nació en una familia de pintores y conservadores de archivos, bibliotecas y museos, a quienes debe mucho de su interés por la cultura y, en particular, por el arte y la arquitectura. Después de estudiar en el Instituto Ramiro de Maeztu ingresó en la Escuela de Arquitectura de Madrid, en la que obtuvo el título de arquitecto en 1973. De los años pasados en ella guarda un recuerdo especialmente grato de la asignatura de Elementos de composición, impartida por el profesor Antonio Fernández Alba, y de la presencia en el tribunal del proyecto fin de carrera del profesor Francisco javier Sáenz de Oiza. Al acabar la carrera trabajó durante varios años en el estudio de Rafael Moneo, al mismo tiempo que compartía estudio y actividad proyectual y crítica con María Teresa Muñoz. Como consecuencia del estímulo intelectual recibido de ambos, y después de la lectura de los ensayos del profesor Colin Rowe, decidió ir a estudiar durante dos años bajo su dirección un máster en historia de la arquitectura en la Universidad de Cornell, en el estado de Nueva York, en la que obtuvo el título en 1980. Su estancia en Cornell fue muy enriquecedora no sólo para el conocimiento de la arquitectura sino también de otras disciplinas humanísticas.

A su vuelta a España retomó la actividad profesional como arquitecto e inició la actividad académica en la Escuela de Madrid, donde se doctoró en 1982 y fue profesor de Dibujo Técnico con Julio Vidaurre y de Composición con Rafael Moneo. En 1984 se decantó por esta última asignatura, de la que fue profesor titular hasta 1989, fecha en la que pasó a ser catedrático de Composición arquitectónica en la Escuela de Arquitectura de la Universidad de Valladolid, actividad que sigue desempeñando en la actualidad. Es autor de algunos proyectos y obras de arquitectura, pero desde hace años se ha dedicado fundamentalmente a la labor de profesor y crítico de arquitectura. Ha publicado varios libros como autor individual; es coautor de libros colectivos y catálogos de exposiciones, y ha escrito y publicado numerosos artículos sobre arquitectura moderna y contemporánea, como los que se reúnen aquí. Su presente actividad de investigación se centra en el estudio de los principios formales en el arte y la arquitectura de las vanguardias del primer tercio del siglo XX, y en la crítica de la arquitectura actual.