The people of Seville didn’t take too kindly when architect Jurgen Mayer’s giant waffle-like parasol for the Plaza de la Encarnacion was being built in 2004. It would impede the Spanish Semana Santa, the procession during the Holy Week of Easter, they thought. It wouldn’t fit in with the ancient Roman ruins. The material isn’t designed for the intense summers, they argued. But today, the Metropol Parasol appears on fridge magnets, postcards, auto advertisements and fashion photos. The undulating canopy stands as a guardian of the medieval city in the thick forest of red and white-roofed buildings, as it wears the urban badge of a public space.
Few Sevillanos know that it took some bravado and a lot of research to arrive at the 28.50 m tall structure. Spread across nearly 18,000 sqm, the built form, which took nearly seven years to complete, grows out of an archaeological excavation site, unifying the past and the present.
This project is a part of “Block.Buster”, an exhibition of the Berlin-based architect. Organised by design magazine mondo*arc india and STIR, a platform for lighting design, in collaboration with Mumbai-based architecture firm Collaborative Architecture, the exhibition closes on December 13. At vis-a-vis Experience Centre in Chhatarpur, Delhi, the show presents panels of Mayer’s projects from across the world.
“Initially, we design without thinking about the material. But once we like the spatial dimensions, we begin research. In the Metropol Parasol project, we tried working with different materials until we found that polyurethane coating on wood could tolerate extreme climates. We inserted steel into the wood membranes to hold the structure together,” says Mayer, of his seven-year-long project.
In all his works, he walks the tightrope of balancing art and architecture, lending spaces an organic connect. One such is the Border Checkpoint, which sits as a handshake on the Georgian border to Turkey. The cantilevered terraces echo the soft ripples of water, while the tower seems to do a dance as it reaches towards the skies. “As people leave the country, they get to see some beautiful architecture. Since it is along the Black Sea, you can swim right next to it, giving you a great perspective from the beach,” says Mayer.
Juxtaposing ideas is what Mayer likes best. His Guest Book project is a case in point. “I have always been curious about data protection patterns. How bank envelopes, salary statements, and cheque books mask what is actually shown. I was invited for an exhibition in Chicago in 1996 where I did a guest book using temperature-sensitive paint.
o when you touch the pages, you can read what is written but when it cools down, away from your body heat, the writing disappears. For me, it was a study in looking at what is hidden and what is exposed, the public and the private. In my buildings, I take the layering of these patterns, enlarge them and make them into skeletal structures. These patterns therefore become a reading device for architecture,” he says.
It is that engaging of the senses that plays through the exhibition, as one feels the light and shadow beneath the Parasol or the curved smoothness of the Border Connect, or the veined facade of the Court of Justice in Belgium.