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Sports Research Centre by José María Sánchez García, Guijo de Granadilla, Cáceres, Spain

José María Sánchez García creates a giant ring hoisted on slim piloti houses research and training facilities for sports professionals. Photography by José María Sánchez García and Roland Halbe

Undoubtedly, the best way to see this building is from above. From the air it registers as a giant ring inscribed in a wooded landscape, with the eerily perfect geometry suggesting something not quite of this world, like the enigmatic geoglyphs in Peru’s Nazca Desert. But this is Guijo de Granadilla, a lush area of western Spain near the Portuguese border. And the otherworldly structure is a complex that provides research, training, recreation and business facilities for sports professionals in a tranquil, landscaped setting. ‘It’s a magic circle, leaving cares and exertions outside, and providing rest and reflection inside,’ says its architect, Madrid-based José María Sánchez García.

The brief included a reception and information centre, physiological laboratories and accommodation, together with a business centre and café. The site lies on a thickly wooded peninsula in a reservoir in the Tagus river basin. A narrow neck of land links the peninsula with the shore and the site is subject to periodic flooding. Yet the practical challenges of building here have catalysed an audacious and elegant architectural solution. A narrow, uniform strip of single-storey accommodation, 7m wide, is coiled into a huge ring, 200m in diameter. Assorted functions are disposed around the circular plan.

Literally touching the ground lightly, the ring is hoisted on slim piloti, well above the level of the any floodwater, leaving the undulating topography intact and navigating around existing trees.

Despite appearing monumental from the air (the only way to see it in its entirety), on the ground, the building is so well integrated into the landscape that it almost becomes part of it. The curved volume tails off into the woods like a receding train, screened by the trees. Stainless-steel cladding panels reflect the surrounding vegetation, the changing light, the movement of leaves or the flight of birds, giving the building a chameleon-like quality.

To accommodate the structure’s curvature, the narrow vertical panels are set slightly at an angle, like gills, rippling along the facade, punctuated by strips of full-height glazing. At regular intervals, open sections containing staircases function as terraces and circulation cores. The flat roof is fully accessible and becomes a giant promenade deck or treetop walk, offering views of the peninsula and reservoir.

A highly rationalised system of prefabrication cut construction time to a mere five months. The structure is steel, with a steel-floor decking system. The ring’s basic module (or segment) consists of main beams spanning 7m (the width of the building), with tie beams at 2.5m intervals and columns at 7.5m centres. Like giant pieces of Meccano, the steel components were brought to the site and simply and rapidly put together. Stores and locker rooms are housed separately in a series of precast concrete bunkers, which were also assembled in situ.

As a piece of lean architecture that metamorphoses delightfully into land art through its scale and response to its site, the jury found the scheme both compelling and convincing.

Architect José María Sánchez García, Madrid
Project team Enrique García-Margallo Solo de Zaldivar, Rafael Fernández Caparros, Maribel Torres Gómez, Laura Rojo Valdivielso, Francisco Sánchez García, José García- Margallo, Marta Cabezón, Mafalda Ambrósio, Carmen Leticia Huerta
Structural engineer Gogaite

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