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Harbour remodelling by Creus e Carrasco, Malpica, Spain

A worthy joint winner, Carrasco solicitously approaches this transformation with creative panache turning an inert harbour into an engaging haven

Malpica is a remote fishing village on Galicia’s ‘Coast of Death’ in north-eastern Spain. Clinging to a steep hillside, the settlement is a typically picturesque assemblage of buildings huddled around a harbour. But its surface charm glosses over the fact that Malpica’s fishing industry and its population have been in slow decline for the last 20 years. It’s a familiar post-industrial narrative. As prospects contract, locals leave to find work elsewhere, and a spiral of social and economic decline sets in.

To try and arrest this, Portos de Galicia, the regional port authority, proposed a redevelopment project for the harbour. The commission went to the young partnership of Creus e Carrasco, based just along the coast in La Coruña. Despite the backdrop of decline, the harbour is still operational and at the heart of civic and economic life. The aim was to provide improved facilities for the fishing fleet, rationalise circulation, develop public space and cultivate the village’s vernacular appeal for visitors. ‘The harbour was analysed as a place for interaction and shelter, with the attraction of its fishing industry and views,’ says Juan Creus. ‘It’s aunique location that makes its presence felt in the town with ramps, stairs and balconies.’

In many ways, the scheme is all about edge conditions and linkages. The focus of the architects’ investigations has been to define and articulate a series of routes and promenades around the harbour and then consider how these relate outwards to the ocean and inwards to mesh with the existing townscape. Beyond the urban and landscaping intentions, the project also manifests a thoughtful approach to the precise form and materiality of the new interventions, which are beautifully and identifiably of their time.

Before Creus e Carrasco arrived on the scene, the harbour was an accretion of esplanades, wharves and dilapidated industrial buildings, including a warehouse, workshop and first aid centre. These have been demolished to extend the waterfront. Yet despite the ad hoc jumble of spaces, buildings and functions, the harbour retains a powerful sense of connection with the landscape. Cradled in a series of massive retaining walls, the horseshoe-shaped haven lies below the main level ofthe village, which spills down and round the cliff edge to meet it.

The drama of this topography is exploited with a new high-level promenade that runs along the edge of the retaining walls, resting on outcrops and wall tops, and presenting an elevated view of harbour activity, without interfering in it. Along the way, the cliff faces are treated with homogenising shotcrete and planted with gardens. ‘This zone for rock climbers and gulls’ nests appears out of nowhere for strolling visitors,’ says Creus. The promenade culminates in a belvedere at Puntada Plancha that offering bracing vistas out over the coast.

Fabricated from precast concrete sections, the promenade has a surprising dynamism and finesse. Bulwarked on one side by the cliff face, it cantilevers out overthe harbour side with streamlined poise. The concrete sections tip up at the edge as if chamfered to support exquisitely slender steel balustrades. In the best functional tradition, the ensemble has a stripped-down authenticity of expression that melds with and dignifies its surroundings.

At harbour level, the chamfered concrete promenade is reprised along the edge of an enlarged esplanade to form a pedestrian deck overlooking the harbour entrance. Both ends of the precast concrete sections are tilted up to define a boundary between parking and pedestrians on the landward side, and to offer a measure of protection along the water’s edge. A series of heavy timber benches and sun loungers provide enclaves for socialising.

‘The project emphasises the potential for improving a typical situation in many Galician fishing villages, whose size prevents a “new slate” approach,’ says JuanCreus. ‘Careful treatment of a few repeated elements or organisational patterns which are often hidden can generate a different, perhaps unstructured type ofbeauty.’

The jury was impressed by the scheme, admiring the way it sought to re-animate the harbour in a modest yet highly responsive way that must surely have a regenerative impact on the village as a whole. Jury members were especially seduced by the elegance of the new promenade structures and by the evident skill in their design and execution. All unanimously agreed that it was a worthy joint winner.

Architect Creus e Carrasco Arquitectos
Structural engineer Thema
Photographs Xoan Piñon and courtesy of the architects
Lighting Bega i Guzzini

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