Architecture for commercial spaces


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Las Arenas of Barcelona, leisure and shopping centre

Richard Rogers y Luis Alonso / Sergi Balaguer, arquitectos

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The choice of a risky and powerful architectural language characterises the remodelling of the old bullring of Las Arenas with the objective of transforming it into a container for a wide variety of uses that will need to reinforce the centrality of its urban environment.

Construction of Las Arenas bullring of Barcelona began in the year 1899 at the initiative of Josep Marsans, a member of the family that owned the land, and the modernist architect August Font i Carreras, who embarked on a project in a neo-Mudejar style that the master builder Juli Marial completed.

The Las Arenas bullring was inaugurated in the year 1900, with capacity for 14,893 spectators, and extended its intense and varied activity until 1977, the year in which the last bullfight was held.

Transforming and remodelling a bullring into a leisure and shopping centre can end up being a lengthy and costly operation and, in any case, a complex one. In the case of Las Arenas, which has conserved the old façade dating from 1899 and whose 4,000 tons were suspended for two years on a sophisticated set of piles with the purpose of excavating the basements, we are speaking about more than 5 years of building works and a large budget that, at this time and according to the current architectural debate, can be subject to criticism. However, if we leave this type of consideration aside, there is no doubt that the new Arenas offers architectural spaces of great power and relevance.

One of the most interesting spaces is the one situated below the great dome that crowns the building, transforming the bullring into a covered enclosure. Fitted with a rhomboid grid of beams and with echoes of Buckminster Fuller or Melnikov, this wooden dome ninety metres in diameter protects a very large space with capacity for almost 2,000 people, characteristics not frequently found in indoor public spaces in the city of Barcelona. The external perimeter of the dome holds restaurant establishments as well as an outdoor boulevard-crown twelve metres in width, while the floor immediately below is surrounded by a 320-metre jogging track and magnificent panoramic views.

The whole of this roof does not rest on the existing brick façade but on four yellow tree-like pillars that stand, facing each other two by two, where the grandstand once stood, occupied by a mixture of uses, noteworthy among which are shops, cinemas, a gym, the rock music museum and others.

The central interior space of Las Arenas, which conserves the measurements of the bullring, is transformed into a great pedestrian traffic area with abundant natural light that floods even the underground floor. This great interior plaza crossed by a battery of escalators and boasting a great deal of spatial power becomes the heart of a building that appears to float on its perimeter pillars and girders, thus allowing for a more than permeable ease of access.

The classic and eternal debate on “the old and the new” is here revealed in all its crudeness given the urban position of the ring and its pre-existing architectural conditions. We must here consider that the always difficult relationship between the neo-Mudejar skin of the ring with the new exterior architectural elements, access towers and offices is justified by the fact that it favours the versatility of the building and its functional “promiscuity” in possible and future transformations.

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Richard Rogers y Luis Alonso / Sergi Balaguer, arquitectos
Richard Rogers Partnership

Luis Alonso
Esplugues de Llobregat, Barcelona
Sergi Balaguer
Esplugues de Llobregat, Barcelona
Josep María Molinos