The Sociedad General de Autores y Editores in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, is indisputably the intellectual property of Ensamble Studio.
-- Interior Design, 3/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Spain's Sociedad General de Autores y Editores defends the intellectual property of more than 66,000 television and film directors and screenwriters as well as composers, playwrights, and choreographers—even mimes.Based in Madrid, SGAE is not just a copyright watchdog. Its regional and international outposts mix administrative offices with research libraries, recording labs, classrooms, and performance halls where members' productions, often created on-site, are performed for the general public.
SGAE's newest branch is just outside the walls of Santiago de Compostela in the northwestern region of Galicia. Overlooking the city's famous 11th-century cathedral, the building sits in a park new to this medieval pilgrimage destination. In 1995, after a local banking family donated its private gardens, Arata Isozaki & Associates was tapped to master-plan the transformation of the 10 acres into a public zone dotted with cultural and educational buildings. Among SGAE's neighbors are the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela's center for international studies and graduate music school.
Ensamble Studio principal Antón García-Abril designed the 32,000 square-foot SGAE to stand with its front facing the park and back hugging the curve of a busy street. His building is nearly synonymous with its monumental facade on the park: a screen of massive gray granite fragments stacked willy-nilly, seemingly in defiance of gravity. Imagine Stonehenge disassembled and put back together again like Humpty Dumpty. “It's a sculpture,” suggests García-Abril—who, aptly enough, teaches a technologycourse called “The Architecture of Weight” at Cornell University's College of Architecture, Art & Planning, where he's a visiting professor.
He picked out the massive pieces of stone from overage at a nearby quarry—giant scraps discarded from the process of making everything from counters to curbs. (Some still bore the grooves etched by excavation tools.) Then his team built a trial version of the facade right there, both designing the composition and testing its equilibrium.
The pieces that made the cut were shipped back to the site in the park, where the team re-created its work with the help of a three-dimensional grid of guide wires. Lengths of rebar appear to tie the stone together, but the sheer weight of the boulders is actually the main structural force. “Gravity is the best support for the stones, the space between them the best expression of that weight,” García-Abril says.
Behind the stone screen, a deep portico runs the width of the building. A row of doors is tucked into a towering wall built from another unusual material: plastic CD and DVD cases. “It's an ode to the digital era—ethereal, ephemeral, and light,” García-Abril maintains. At night, LEDs installed behind the stacked cases cycle through a rainbow of colors. Seen from the park, the entire facade becomes, to his eye, a cathedral window with the glowing translucent plastic as the pieces of stained glass and the hefty stone as the lead between them. In a city defined for centuries by religion, the metaphor suits. “The building creates intense connections between distant times and places,” he says.
Equally unorthodox is SGAE's interior, which García-Abril subdivided into four program zones. “Cultural diffusion” com-prises not only recording and postproduction studios but also an audiovisual lab and auditoriums. In “education” are classrooms and a computer lab. “Management” contains administrative offices and a meeting room. And the “public” area fea-tures a members' lounge, gift shop, and small café.
In “management,” offices along the considerably more neutral street facade's blades of translucent glass take on a cool, uniform glow of white. Corridors behind the portico wall of CD and DVD cases bask in the changing colors of the LEDs. But most inventive is the windowless lower level, split between “education” and “cultural diffusion.” Here, García-Abril created undulating walls by casting concrete against the trunks of indigenous eucalyptus and pine trees. The result could be interpreted as a ghostly forest or a rippling curtain, and incandescent downlighting enhances the mood. Opposite, a blank white wall is washed by cool LEDs, suggesting another of Galicia's natural attributes, the cold Atlantic Ocean surrounding the region on two coasts.
In the computer lab, García-Abril went so far as to cover one of the walls in actual eucalyptus trunks, stripped of bark and glowing golden. “We worked all the walls with a strong identity to give the building a potent materiality,” García-Abril says. Indeed, the building plays with unexpected materials to powerful effect.