Jesús Granada

The architects behind the new Vegas Altas Congress Center in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, wanted the 74,000-square-foot project to blend seamlessly into the landscape, becoming a scenic fringe between the medieval town’s urban streetscape and its agricultural hinterlands. But they also wanted the building to be a landmark, distinct from its bucolic setting. So they crafted a structure that does both.

The four-person design team—Luis Pancorbo, José de Villar, Carlos Chacón, and Inés Martín Robles—partly buried the center’s two large auditoriums before topping them with an expansive public plaza. Bursting from this flat surrounds is their counterpoint: a bold, cubic building cast in place with gold-colored concrete and punctuated with geometric window and skylight cutouts. To soften the contrast, the designers wrapped this cube, which houses a restaurant, offices, and service space, in a veil of horizontal bands that follow the cube’s rounded corners, orbiting the structure in regimented paths inspired by the lines cut into farm fields after harvest. The veil also obscures the underlying concrete form from a distance, while providing invaluable shade to building occupants during the region’s hot summers.

Jesús Granada
Jesús Granada

For the veil, the designers initially planned to use straight lengths of plastic pipe, but the cost was too high. In their hunt for an alternative, they discovered what turned out to be a superior material: naval-grade rope made from recycled plastic. Not only did the rope cost less, but the designers could customize its colors to include a mix of yellows, oranges, and greens, mirroring the surrounding fields and imbuing the building with the likeness of a hay bale.

Though the design clearly specified the ropes’ thickness and spacing, along with the cantilevered, painted-steel armature that would support them, their precise attachment method remained uncertain until the center was nearly complete. As construction was wrapping up, the architects and their engineers rapidly explored different techniques to secure the ropes to the armature, “testing and trying again, and testing and trying again,” Pancorbo says.

Jesús Granada

Finally, the team identified that 12-centimeter-diameter rebar would support the ropes, and that 10 or 11 brackets per elevation would ensure the ropes stayed horizontal and taut around the building. The rebar is painted to match the rope, to minimize its appearance.

The jurors praised the Vegas Altas as a monumental artifact. Juror Doug Stockman, AIA, was particularly taken by the veil, both for its outward appearance and for the “effect it has, especially in that interstitial space” between rope and concrete.

Jesús Granada
Robe sub-structrure and attachment to the building
Courtesy Pancorbo + de Villar + Chacón + Martín Robles Robe sub-structrure and attachment to the building

See all the 2016 R+D Award winners here.

Client: Junta de Extremadura
Design Firm: Pancorbo + de Villar + Chacón + Martín Robles, Madrid · Luis Pancorbo, José de Villar, Carlos Chacón, Inés Martín Robles (project team)
Drawings and Lighting Designer: Luis Pancorbo, José de Villar, Carlos Chacón, Inés Martín Robles
Structural Engineer: Mecanismo · Juan Rey, Pablo Vegas, Jacinto Ruiz Carmona
Electrical and Facilities Engineering: Úrculo Ingenieros · Rafael Úrculo, Sergio Rodríguez
Acoustics: Arau Acústica · Higini Arau
Models: Gilberto Ruiz
Construction: Placonsa · Eloy Montero; Julio Oreja (site manager)
Ropes Installation: Cotesi; Lastra & Zorrilla
Funding: Junta de Extremadura
Cost: €10,505,187 ($11.7 million, approx.)
Photography: Jesús Granada (building); Ignacio Bisbal Grandal (model)