Saturday, May 7, 2011

Cardinal Belluga Square, Mixing Modern with Classical in Murcia

When first entering Cardinal Belluga Square, it feels a lot like any other Spanish plaza with its small shops, cafes with outdoor seating, street performers, and bustling foot traffic. The one thing that sets this plaza apart from others is you may happen to wander into is the mixed uses of the buildings that take up their residence in this area. The first structure to stand out is located on the long axis of the plaza, a great cathedral built in the seventeenth century with a Baroque facade complete with heavily ornate statues and details. It is an overpowering structure in such a small plaza. Its design makes it stand out and automatically draws ones attention when they enter into the space. 

Murcia Cathedral

Taking up the area on the opposite end of the square is a modern building, Murcia Town Hall designed by Rafael Moneo. Moneo had the difficult design task of creating a building for the city hall that stood in direct opposition to one of the most overpowering structures in the plaza and one of the best churches in Spain. He incorporates a design based on a modern day baroque philosophy in order to both respect the pre-existing building and to not overpower the square by competing with such a classical order.

Moneo's City Hall of Murcia

The new construction is more of a response to the cathedral instead of trying to be the definitive answer to the design problem Moneo had to work with in placing a building in such a historic plaza. His modern day baroque stands with a minimal facade with no ornament standing in opposition to the church. A series of openings make up the face which seem to be spaced out in a geometry that responds to the placement and decor on the facade of the cathedral. This leads to the town hall having a very simple exterior but allows shadows to play within the voids and the frames of the openings to create a more dynamic feeling than what is originally presented. This allows the building to go through transitions throughout the day without over doing it. There is also no entrance to the building located on street level in an attempt to not draw attention away to the other sites. The base of town hall extends one level below to the street level to give the appearance of it rising up and not creating a harsh connection with the street, once again in an attempt to not try and compete with its surroundings. The stance of only trying to respond to the situation instead of trying to find a definitive answer works.  It is a difficult situation given the circumstances and should be credited to Moneo. You never get the feeling that these two buildings are in opposition of each other and trying to compete within the small plaza. The cathedral remains the focal point with city hall taking the backseat but still getting its architectural intentions across in a respectful manner.

One of the other important design considerations can only been taken into account when you look down and observe the spacing of the tiles that form a grid laid stretching across Cardinal Belluga Square. Pathways are created with the use of lighter colored stone tiles set within the darker pigmented ones that make up the majority of the plaza. This pathways at first glance might not seem to have anything other than an arbitrary layout intending to give movement to the group, but on closer inspection, you realize they connect to the different entrances of the surrounding architecture. The paths end at the doorways to the shops and church on the short axis as well as at city hall and the three portals to the cathedral. This design consideration directs movement within the space and gives direction in a busy atmosphere. It’s interesting just to sit and observe  the number of people that will take the time to move over onto these paths as if it is guiding the direction they are traveling. These paths become a street within the open space to direct the flow of foot traffic throughout the square. The culmination of these multiple paths happen at the intersection of all of them, creating in a sense a grand stage. It is a space where the journey of seven different paths come together and give union to the center of the square although not the absolute one. This point becomes a stage where groups meet even though they are coming from a different direction with different intentions. It is a way to bring people together and not necessarily make it obvious why until you look at the ground. The street performers like it best to set up shop here as it is the point where anyone who enters the plaza will surely pass through. It is important and works because it takes something that most designers overlook and gives it a purpose within the space. A  ground plane that not only directs but brings you through the space and all the time has the power to bring strangers together without forcing it.

Not all of the city’s residents  supported the decision to build the town hall in Cardinal Belluga Square, but Moneo tried to stay respectful to the location while offering up a building that could speak for itself. Located just off the busy city streets, Cardinal Belluga Square offers a little something for everyone and  gives a modern influence to the city. The attention still remains very much on the cathedral as you enter the space but the attempt to modernize deserves it’s recognition. Cardinal Belluga Square is a successful example of a public space, because it brings together tradition with a sense of advancement and moving forward while taking into account the needs of the residents and the flow of everyday life.