Peter Eisemann is an architect with a very complex persona and legacy, in both practice and scholarship. I’ll leave the more nuanced discussions of that to his long overdue biography.
The project above is the Galician City of Culture. It is salient because it is on the scale of a Grand Project of public sector reinvestment unseen since the rise of aggressive “deregulation” and the end of the Cold War. A that time, cultural and sporting competition were proxies for ideological battles, so large public projects were given the funding and attention neecessary to attempt claim to primacy.
So the fact that without some political enemy to inflate the size, cultural significance, and budget of this project, it’s rather remarkable that it is being built. While its original intent was to capture the so-called Bilbao Effect, it has far outstripped the usual level of “investment” of those sorts of projects. Its potential for success lies in this fact. Once the complex is complete, it will be so big, unique, and repurposeable (if not flexible from the outset) that it has a chance to avoid the typical Bilbao Side Effect – that the masses do not come and the government has wasted precious public funds on a wretchedly ugly building of limited usability, such as the Experience Music Project in Seattle. Here, the functions are too mixed, coded, and sober to suffer the inverse Beauborg Effect that befalls cultural ciphers, buildings whose iconograpic meaning outstrips their function and relevance.
And unlike most of the post-Bilbao peacock feather buildings, it is deeply (literally and figuratively) engaged into the ground. This is meaningful (and one assumes intentional) due to the connection of the Galician people to their land. They have a long history as a farming region far from the cultural spotlight, but home another cultural icon. It only makes that Santiago de Compostela would be the location of the last “design pilgrimage” for an architect known for his cosmopolitanism… Perfectly in step with the long history of this rooted peasantry playing host to the well heeled pilgrims who walked the roads to this place … Roads whose routes are manifest in the building layout.
So it is exciting to see the Galician City of Culture coming complete. It is a marvel in many senses: the improbability if it actually being built, the lack of cynicism and condescention of the design, its seeming backing of the image with actual design and programmatic content. And to top it all off, the fact that there is both a sensicality and simplicity to its conceptual constructs, and that they have so successfully directed its form to developing into something both improbable and aesthetically compelling.
There are many competing views on Dr. Eisenmann, but no matter one’s subjective views on him or his legacy, this is a fittingly significant last great work by a man who has done more for and to the undertaking of architectural practice and thought than anyone else in the last 30+ years. Take a moment to view the Archinect article, consider this achievement, and please lie aside your ideological swords and shields and appreciate the possibilities of architecture.