Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Wrecking Crew: Knocking GESA down

What do you do with a rubbish building that is as unloved as it is unlovely? The obvious answer is to knock it down. But unfortunately, the obvious is all too rarely considered in the pursuit of some bonkers creation of "emblems".

The GESA monstrosity in Palma, empty for over two years, took, in all, ten years to construct. I claim no expertise in matters of demolition, but ten minutes might be sufficient to raze much of the damn thing, to put it and anyone obliged to look at it out of their misery.

I am not fundamentally against preserving lousy architecture. Some has a certain idiosyncratic charm, but the GESA building has no redeeming feature. It has no art-deco curiosity, it is not representative of some intrinsically important patrimony; it's an office building, that's all it is. Yet it is, absurdly, meant to be preserved.

You can't necessarily trust everything an architect might say - one was, after all, responsible for the GESA building in the first place - but Patxi Mangado, an architect originally involved with the development of the Palacio de Congresos, by which the GESA building will remain, once a) expressed his surprise that it was still there and b) suggested that it should be pulled down.

So much for common sense though. Instead, we have the situation in which ideas are being tossed into the pot to find the maddest of them to justify the building's continuing existence. In addition to previous proposals for an auditorium and restaurant, the latest, coming from the co-ordinator of youth activities at the town hall, is that part of the building should be given over to so-called "self-management" whereby several floors would be devoted to youthful artistic endeavours and workshops and a cultural association for showing off whatever work or projects these endeavours might yield.

There is nothing wrong with this idea at all, apart from one thing: locating it in the GESA building. The lack of empathy between a brutalist, early 60s-designed office block and current-day, dreadlocked art and craft is extreme. Furthermore, no one seems to be mentioning how this "self-management" might be paid for, as in, for instance, where the money for the building's energy would come from. Perhaps GESA should offer to give something back and supply electricity for free.

The bizarre language that surrounds the building, that used by those who seem determined for it to stay, is no better summed up than by this youth activities' co-ordinator who reckons that "sociocultural self-management" would make the GESA block "an emblematic enclave of the city".

Here we go again, stuff that isn't emblematic, as with, for instance, the building of a new road through Playa de Muro, suddenly becomes so. The GESA building is emblematic of one thing and one thing alone - office building design and not very good design at that. The other main suggestion, that it houses offices, is the only sensible one to have been advanced, for the very simple reason that this is exactly why it was ever built.

The rationalisation that is currently going on is weird. There are plenty of buildings in Palma which are emblematic, the Cathedral for example, but to claim that GESA is one of them is to imply that Palma is emblematic of naff commercial architecture. It's not exactly what the tourist brochures might wish to boast of, though heaven knows they probably will, unless the Partido Popular secure the town hall administration in May and do as they have promised, which is to send in the bulldozers.

What you do with old GESA offices and plant is not confined to Palma. The de-commissioned power station in Alcúdia, idle for years, is meant at some stage to become a science and technology museum. The architectural tendering for its re-development, which brought with it a fair degree of publicity, largely because Lord Rogers was up for the gig, resulted in the plan that is currently as idle as the power station itself. There's no money in other words.

This may well be a blessing. If it means the museum never seeing the light of day, we might all be spared the waste of money it would be. As with the GESA building, the power station deserves being knocked down. In its place should go a Center Parcs or something of genuine tourist appeal. But this would never happen because it wouldn't be emblematic. Consequently, the chimneys, at the very least, have to remain and to remain the blots on the landscape as one scans the bay of Alcúdia and spies these two long-impotent erections (if this isn't a contradiction in terms).

As with some commercial buildings, I am in favour of preserving some old industrial architecture. But whereas a power-station chimney or two or four might look ok in an urban landscape, London's for example, the same cannot be claimed for the vista across a bay in a tourism zone that is meant to be renowned for its natural beauty. If chimneys are what you want, there is one anyway; that of the power station by Albufera that took over from the one in Puerto Alcúdia.

Both the GESA building and old power station are emblematic, or symptomatic to be more accurate; symptomatic of confused notions of architectural preservation which insist, firstly, that heritage exists where it does not and, secondly, that scenery is enhanced when it most certainly isn't.

It's all very obvious, or should be. Bring on the wrecking crew and the explosives.

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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