Tuesday, May 03, 2011

In A Wrong Place: Architecture

Alcúdia has some old ruins, and not just the Roman ones.

The long-abandoned Es Foguero nightclub has been home to vagrants and was the last resting-place of one: "El Gallego", who was murdered there last summer. Even longer-abandoned is the original power station, the two chimneys of which stand less than proud on the landscape of the bay of Alcúdia.

The site of GESA's former power station is meant to become a museum of science and technology. The cost has been put at 21 million euros.

In October 2007, a Pamplona-based architects practice, Alonso Hernández y Asociados, beat off competition from the likes of the Millennium Dome designer, Lord Rogers, in winning the pitch for the conversion of the site. The architects promised a concept called "el claro en el bosque" - the clearing in the forest.

What has since happened is that some clearance work has been undertaken, not directly related to the museum. The science and technology clearing in the forest may now never be built.

A year after the award to the Pamplona firm, there was a presentation of what the museum might be. It was made in Alcúdia's auditorium. A presentation is as much as there has ever been. Even then it was being admitted that the finance for the project was not in place, and it still isn't.

Economic crisis has caused a rethink of many public developments. If it causes there to be more thought applied to both the necessity and the architecture of some of these developments, then it will have been worth enduring.

There is some really rotten architecture in Mallorca, most of it contemporary. It is not rotten per se, but it is rotten because it has no sense of place. We might not ever know what the clearing in the forest will finally be like, but the inspiration was said to have come from the Tate Modern, the converted Bankside Power Station on London's South Bank. Would this be appropriate for a tourist location on a bay of some not little outstanding beauty?

The auditorium was an apt building in which to hold the presentation of the museum. The puff maintains that the auditorium is of contemporary design. It may well be, but contemporary doesn't mean remarkable, and this the auditorium most certainly isn't. Moreover, it reflects in no way the historic walls of the town which stand opposite, while it has never operated at anything like capacity.

Similarly, the Can Ramis building in Alcúdia's market square suffers from being under-utilised and from being a totally alien structure. Like much new residential architecture and an absurd building that has risen right on Pollensa's Plaça Major and next to the church, it is symptomatic of how architects have seen the future - it is block-shaped and cuboidal.

Contemporary design does not have to be a mélange of competing styles. Anyone familiar with Bath's SouthGate Centre will know that it is possible to merge the new with the old almost seamlessly, while still creating a highly modern feel, so much so that you have the impression of walking through a computer simulation.

Questionable both in design and in purpose. This has been the problem with some local building development. In the same way, so have other projects. Industrial estates, for example. Pollensa's is far from full. In Alcúdia, the layout was finished a couple of years ago. It stands empty and now blocked to access. The official reason why it is empty has to do with a failure to arrive at agreement over electricity supply, which is ironic, given that it is next to the current power station.

The fact is that some developments are simply unnecessary. Pollensa wants its own auditorium, but why build one when Alcúdia has one with spare capacity? It all comes down to me-too need and suspicions that there might be other factors at play.

The empty industrial estate is next to the Es Foguero ruin, one that became so largely because it was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The project for the old power station has suffered because the time was wrong. Were the museum to be built, it would still, because its design would retain the landscape-offensive chimneys, be in the wrong place. And in the wrong place is where other buildings now are, or they are just plain wrong because they are not needed.

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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