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Mushroom clouds

The Metropol Parasol in Seville has been shortlisted for the Mies van der Rohe Award. An outraged William JR Curtis wants to know why

Architectural awards, like cigarettes, should carry the qualification that they can harm health, or at least the health of cities and societies. The Mies van der Rohe Award (or European Prize for Contemporary Architecture) is, according to its own publicity, supposed ‘to acknowledge and reward quality architecture produced in Europe’ and to offer ‘both individuals and public institutions an opportunity to reach a clear understanding of the cultural role of architecture
in the construction of our cities’.

Maybe this soothing text requires some adjustment this year to read ‘an obfuscation of the role of privatisation, financial interests and sensationalism in the destruction of our cities’? How else can you explain the presence in the recently announced shortlist (none of it inspiring), of the Metropol Parasol in Seville by Jurgen Mayer H which effectively wrecks the Plaza de la Encarnación in the historic core with a self-indulgent exercise in pointless form making and geometrical tricks?

Known locally as the ‘poisoned mushrooms’, Mayer’s awkward structures destroy any sense of scale, vulgarise one of Europe’s great historical cities and privatise public urban space with a shabby shopping mall below and a paying viewing platform above. Of course, the sexy promotional photos of the project avoid showing the shoddy construction of ungainly wooden fillets slotted into a banal concrete megastructure and the negative impact upon the surrounding domestic facades and upon what is left of the pavements at ground level. Meanwhile, several ‘useful idiots’ in the intellectually bankrupt ‘theory scene’ of American academia can be found chanting on and on about Deleuzian folds (without having seen the real thing apparently).

But the central question is this: what on earth is this piece of techno kitsch, this shipwreck from the era of icons, doing on the shortlist of a prize that claims to promote architectural and urban quality? Doesn’t this make nonsense of the Mies van der Rohe Award? One has for some time suspected that choices are propelled by a cadre of curator apparatchiks who promote their national agendas within the European programme but without much critical sense: ‘eyes which do not see’.

But the situation is worse than that. At the time of writing, the City Hall of Seville is considering how to get roughly four million euros back from the architect on the grounds that the project cost twice what it should (final figure 102 million euros) due to mistakes in the process of realisation (El País, Andalusia, 13/02/2013). Is this really the example that the Mies van der Rohe Award wishes to promote, particularly in a period of acute economic crisis in which Andalusia has some of the worst unemployment in Europe?

Oddly enough Mayer still gets a platform in the USA, for example giving the first lecture of the academic year at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University last September. By now one is used to the fact that the fancy Ivy League schools are out of touch with social and political reality, lost in the cloud cuckoo land of ‘parametrics’, but there is no reason that the ‘European Prize for Contemporary Architecture’ should abandon any sense of responsibility just to serve the interests of a muddle-headed jury and a rather hopeless set of so-called ‘advisors’. Yes let us please encourage ‘a clear understanding of the cultural role of architecture in the control of our cities’ first of all by censoring architectural pollution, secondly by not promoting trash with grandiose sounding awards.

Photo inhabitat


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