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Atlàntida Performing Arts Centre by Josep Llinàs, Vic, Osona, Spain

Josep Llinàs anchores his asymmetrical theatre building to historical city of Vic. Photography by Toni Anguera and Filippo Poli

‘Vic is full of nuns and priests’ says architect Jorge Martin. It also has its share of fog and pigs. The plateau in which the city - which is the capital of the county of Osona - sits has a unique microclimate, typically 5ºC below or above the temperatures experienced in Barcelona, situated just 60km south. Surrounded by a ring of mountains, fog hangs in the air most mornings, and as an important centre of pig farming ‘it also has its own special smell’.

On this visit, however, all that persisted was rain. Priests and nuns stayed indoors and damp air masked both fog and smell. The atmosphere was melancholic as Vic appeared decidedly underpopulated. Yet approaching from the west, passing the Cathedral and disused tanneries that line the old town’s historic southern boundary, this new building brought a silver lining to a cloudy scene. Albeit rendered in gold.

Atlàntida is the third project by Catalan architect Josep (Pepe) Llinàs that the AR has published. Both the Jaume Fuster Library (AR June 2006) and Institute of Ocular Microsurgery (IMO; AR November 2009), introduced the architect’s skilful resolution of spatially complex, multisided, unified, architectural forms.

This project extends these preoccupations further in an architectural figure that combines each of the earlier projects’ best bits: the urban tension of the library - that clung to the edge of an existing townscape to create a new public space - and the exuberance of IMO’s buckled roof forms.

Once again Llinàs defigures the prism, undoes formalities and makes the mass of the building disappear, by chopping, stepping and subtracting form. This is another big building, shaped and enveloped to sit comfortably within its context. Providing in excess of 10,500m², it combines an 800-seat theatre and 400-seat auditorium, with a music school and 100-seat performance space.

In Gràcia, Llinàs’ library formed a new street, La Riera de Vallcarca. Here too, the architect’s commitment to linking new and old urban morphologies is manifest through his competition-winning strategy for the Atlàntida, which creates an open route, providing free access for all across the site during daylight hours.

From the south, where the majority of visitors will arrive, a path bifurcates around a restaurant that will eventually animate the proposed but as yet incomplete park. Once past the restaurant - passing through the first of two courtyards that offer a glimpse down into the main foyer - the path turns sharply twice as it rises 6m across the site. At the top it emerges onto Carrer del Bisbe Torras i Bages where the existing music school building, Can Serratosa, will soon be converted to accommodate Atlàntida’s offices.

En route, changes in direction coincide with key architectural moves. The first is the most obvious, where copper-aluminium cladding combines with bright red paintwork to frame the main entrance, which ultimately leads the audience down into the sunken foyers beyond.

The second incident is comparatively discreet, appealing more profoundly to Llinàs’ sensibilities, where roof forms reach their maximum gradient and proximity to passers-by. As described by Martin, ‘this is a critical point for Pepe, where the building is above, below and beside you’, mimicking a condition that exists in many densely planned historic cities.

Here, deep at the centre of the plan, the theatre’s zinc roof rises steeply towards the fly-tower’s golden crown, in resonance with Vic’s mountainous horizon. In the same instance you also experience space that recalls the scale of Vic’s medieval townscape, as you turn the corner to pass through a low cut notch set within the lower of the two golden crowns.

Finally, before reaching the street at the top, a small landing leads back towards the music school’s main entrance, signalled by the use of basalt cladding and flanked by a dramatic quadruple-height patio that plunges down to the building’s lowest level, well below grade.

It is the depth of this building that is most surprising of all, amplified here by this tight north-facing void that unifies the building’s complementary but nonetheless independent user groups,

with a timber-lined courtyard and tiered external performance space accessible to all. Both the theatre and auditorium are already operational. Accessed through generous conjoined basement foyers, they were inaugurated on 23 April, marking St George’s Day (the saint is also patron of Catalonia).

The school opens this autumn, providing state-subsidised music lessons for children and adults in a generous suite of 50 classrooms that spiral around the entrance patio on the two uppermost floors. Ranging from individual practice rooms to choral rehearsal rooms, each has box-in-box construction, with sound isolation of 45/50dB; rooms have at least one wall set at 12º to the orthogonal, to avoid sound interference.

Josep Llinàs continues to present his architecture in the most straightforward of terms, avoiding the sort of theoretical associations other architects would not be able to resist. He could easily have spoken about the influence of Catalan artist Josep Maria Sert’s exquisite black and gold murals, like those in Vic Cathedral.

He could also have discussed the performance centre’s relationship with Hans Scharoun’s fine Berlin Philharmonie, and how he has added another plan to the canon of asymmetrical theatre buildings. Instead, he and his collaborators continue with more modest means and methods, using cardboard models (40 in this case) to shape space, form and light, in pursuit of exceptionally distinguished buildings, like this.

Architect Llinàs-Llobet-Ayesta-Vives
Project team Josep Llinàs, Josep Llobet, Pedro Ayesta, Laia Vives, Jorge Martín, Iván Andrés, Andrea Tissino, Philipp Gasteiger, Fermín Garrote, Iñaki Arbelaiz, Petra Pferdmenges, Natzarena Manenti, Aina Solé
Technical architect Miquel Autet

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