This is one of the most beautiful swimming pool I had ever seen in my life.
Designed by Alvaro Siza, the 40,000sq sports complex centre is part of a larger sports park development that includes a new stadium for Barcelona’s “other” football club.
The site was a flat rectangle of empty land between the dense streets of the post-war suburb to the north and Barcelona’s ring road to the south. Access roads separate it from a school to the west and playing fields to the east.
The building is set back from the built-up urban edge and made up of a distinct group of large interlocking volumes of white concrete which express the primary programmes within: a rectangular box for the 2,500-seat sports hall, an oval drum for the swimming pool and a long bar for the ancillary facilities. From a distance the ridge of hills that keeps Barcelona’s sprawling suburbs pressed against the sea and gives the city much of its topographical character emerge above the buildings. The scarred concrete profile of the sports hall fits effortlessly into the tableau with the line of tree-covered outcrops on the horizon.
Two skylights cut into the ceiling and fill the southern end with a soft glow, drawing you down towards the swimming pool entrance and introducing an other-worldly element to the architectural promenade. Later, when you head back to the entrance to leave, a high-level window frames a view of the rooftops of Cornella as if to wake you gently and remind you to where you are about to return.
Deep thresholds separate the sports hall and swimming pool from the circulation space. At the swimming pool entrance, instead of just a row of doors, a kind of anti-space has been made with two curving walls, not as a distinct room but as a distortion of the circulation space, as if the space itself has been morphed around. An event such as this looks naive on a plan but the reality of the experience only induces awe at Siza’s masterful judgment of precisely where to introduce light, how much to curve a wall, when to step a ceiling.
Álvaro Siza emerged serene from the creative chaos of the late 20th century as an architect whose work is largely untrammelled by fashion, fickle form-making or extravagant gestures. Now feted as one of the few living masters of modern architecture (this year he was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal), Siza is a practitioner unconcerned with the superficially heroic and iconic, preferring to create a strong sense of place through his sculptural and monumental works.
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