Monday, 18 October 2010

Kursaal Palace, San Sebastian, Spain

Architect Rafael Moneo (opened 1999)

Having visit the inverted emperor's new clothes of the Bilbao Guggenheim, I finally made it to San Sebastian, and to the Kursaal Palace, by Rafael Moneo.

Whilst I have never doubted which is the better building, the Guggenheim had surprised - and impressed me - with it's sheer scale, its total bombast and swagger, but yet it remains a Frank Gehry signature building. It says little about the city of Bilbao, and the galleries themselves were quite staggering in their clumsiness. Having recently visited the Nottingham Contemporary - a masterclass in the lighting and display of art - one wonders quite how the Guggenheim managed to get it so wrong...the NC was just so clever and somehow so modest...anyway, I digress.

Except, not quite...


So there I was circling the Kursaal thinking what a clever, understated, overstated, subtle and brash piece of architecture it is, when I am put in mind of the Nottingham Contemporary, and I start to wonder - ' is this not the same building?'. No it is not, for obvious reasons. The Contemporary is a gallery; the Kursaal is an auditorium and concert hall. The Contemporary is resplendent in green concrete and gold-anodised aluminium; the Kursaal is built from rough stone, marble and glass. The Contemporary buries itself into the dense urban fabric of an industrial English city; the Kursaal stands sential on the shorefront of the Bay of Biscay.

And yet...they feel...similar. Why, I am not certain, and looking at the photos I wonder if I am right. But there is the concave cladding; green vertical bands in Nottingham; (almost) horizontal glass in San Sebastian, and the wide concrete entrance canopy, cantilevered and paited purple in Nottingham, but not in San Sebastian. And that odd upstand detail to the roof, used with perhaps more intent in San Sebastian. And the two blocks...that's it: both buildings have two blocks! Glass in San Sebastian and gold in Nottingham!

But maybe that's not it at all. Maybe the connection between the buildings is more subtle, more general. Maybe it's something to do with the extreme architectural formality which both buildings seem to possess, whilst both somehow remaining informal and - can I say - proletariat? Just look at those awnings!


1 comment:

  1. I think both have got a kind of surface fetishism going on. Also a formal arbitrariness – although the sea-ward thrust of the Kursaal Palace and its greater vigour overall makes more sense to me as imagery than does the NC...

    The craziness of Gehry’s form in these terms probably makes no sense at all but at least the execution is angst free!