New Gate of Alhambra by Álvaro Siza + Juan Domingo Santos

Álvaro Siza’s, in collaboration with Juan Domingo Santos,  design for the new gate and visitor information center, commissioned after winning an international competition in 2011, of the Alhambra, world heritage site, in Granada.
Following to his experience at the Alhambra in 2009, Siza journaled about his envision for the new gate, stating: “…from bright sun to shadows, from warmth to coolness, from wide to intimate focus, I like to dream about my project before I set it down in any detail.”
“From this subconscious memory arose a preliminary structure that blends nature, past and present, and in equal parts shade, water and trees as key elements,” described Arch. António Choupina, Aedes curator of “Visions of the Alhambra,” which will be on view in Berlin from March 22 through May 8, 2014. 
This condition allows the building to become one with the landscape itself, articulating palimpsests from the old farmlands with the Generalife’s lower garden elevation (+792) and freeing the horizon as the site spontaneously gives rise to a panoramic platform, integral to the contemplative aspect of Muslim culture and to the distribution of 8000 daily visitors.
Avoiding common waiting lines through complex spatial sequencing and a topographical systematization of people’s movements, induces the user to comfortably experience the design narrative like one would a miniature prototype of a fullscale Alhambra.
That familiarity is selfevident as soon as any sightseer sets foot on the main platform and gazes at the solid fortress walls from the restaurant or the randomly placed bench compartments, defining intimacy layers like ruins that never were but might have been.
Plan-wise the restaurant works very much like a diaphragm, dividing the podium and the foyer into four connected spaces, a tensioned architectural gesture that accelerates perspective by means of a bent façade and an obliquely cantilevered slab, which compresses you in the mutual direction of the entrance or the exit. Comparable to a host with outstretching arms, this courtyard welcomes people and then redirects them either to the Alhambra Square or down to a doubleheighted atrium, excavated out the earth.
The skewed horizontal volume also dialogues with smaller constructions on the opposite side of the street and forms a sunken patio that brings light and privacy to the underground workspaces, housing primarily a hallway, a daycare, a gift shop and the vertical access system: elevators, stairs and ramps.
Approximated to a corbusian promenade, the ramped descent responds to a programmatic necessity with Álvaro Siza’s intricately anthropocentric perception of space, which requires a conscious manipulation of the corporeal journey through temporal and visual partitioning, alternating the impulse of the fenêtre en longueur with an intermediate plateau that glimpses the buried “metropolis” one will ultimately attain.
Unlike Calvino’s invisible city of Argia, the massive weight does not crush its inhabitants but rather prepares them for the wideness and the profoundly lyric experience to come, emphasizing the Alhambra’s massive proportion by hiding a large part of the project’s 5700 m2 in the terrain. This syllogistic duality of topographical intrusion and extrusion makes the new building appear smaller than it physically is, treading a line between tradition and modernity that is rich in associations and dense in its imagery. 

Photo Marco Terzoli

Location: Camino Viejo del Cementario, 18009 Granada, Spain
Architects: Álvaro Siza Vieira + Juan Domingo Santos
Engineering: GOP Engenharia
Industrial Engineering: Abacus Engineers
Technical Architect: Jose Navarro Navarro
Agronomy & Foresting: Rafael Navarro M., Enrique Deckler
Renderings: LT Studios
Area: 5700.0 m2
Photography: Álvaro Siza Vieira + Juan Domingo Santos, Antoìnio Choupina

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