April 13, 2009

Tenerife [002] Elemental

Crouching behind a main tourist area in Tenerife is a building with enough brute force to take on any of the world's architectural heavyweights, say SpaceTM's Mark

The Magma Arts and Congress Centre was certainly created for presence. Hewn out of monumental beaten-blocks of volcanic rock, it feels like architect Fernando Menis must have implemented pyramid-building techniques to make this possible.

Both he and the stone are local to the island and he certainly makes a statement about the island's force, both of nature and of will-power.

The design was informed by the weight of the volcano that dominates the island and the unusual desert landscapes created by it. Despite the definite feeling of solidity and confidence, any arrogance the building may have is washed away by the lightness of the free-flowing curved roof. This interaction echoes the way the sea and the rock landscapes affect each around the island.

The presence of the building cannot be denied. But it is really the attention to detail that brings this whole project true glory.

On approach, what first appears to be small slashes in a wall becomes inset glazed windows, stories and stories high. Huge slabs of concrete, that are so impressive from a distance, have false doors pressed into them as you get closer. Get closer still and the concrete contains small debris like nails and bottle tops. Whether through a telescope or a microscope, there is huge statement and tiny detail everywhere. I've never enjoyed such an immense building so minutely before.

The local stone gives way to a master-class in concrete usage and texture. Huge brutish slabs are used with their raw backs exposed and simply lined up in a row. The slatted spaces between them are then beautifully glazed, keeping the interior dark and cool. Vast stone expanses are hand beaten to serrated blade edges. Smooth wood-pressed surfaces butt up against primitive hand-beaten rock. The interactions in this building are endlessly fascinating. 

Yet all this raw expanse, contrasting texture and strong angle come into their own when they play with another of Tenerifes great forces. The light and shadow they create with the sun are both truly immense, finely textured and ever shifting.

Instead of just being inspired by what Tenerife has, Menis has created an island within an island that distills and exhibits what Tenerife can be when it is really at its best: when it is elemental.

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