In the frantic scramble by developers,
builders and architects to obtain a gold medal
in sustainability, even for the most unsustainable
projects, one fundamental element seems
to elude the contestants: so far, the aspiration
to make ecosystem-friendly architecture has
not produced a single specific aesthetic, or, if
you prefer, “image”.
Assemblages of glass and steel, a profusion of different types of wood for facades and structures, grasses from the backwoods creeping up walls of staggering heights: it seems that anything goes when it comes to this genre of new green kitsch. It is so quickly assimilated by styles that have a purely mediagenic existence that it is going down in the chronicles as contemporary architecture. Thus all attempts to break away from the confused formalist rhetoric with its sprinkling of aromatic herbs are welcome, so that original directions can be taken to create a new environmental image.
From their forward position in Barcelona, where all the natural and artificial scents of the Mediterranean condense into a thick intellectual mist, Emiliano López and Mónica Rivera tackle this design issue with a generous helping of beginner’s luck – in this specific case with a client who had never before possessed a hotel. It is a known fact of capitalism that hotels have become a highly profitable specialisation for those who succeed in gaining a foothold. It is also obvious, however, that this is a mined commercial territory where planetary travellers are easily bored to death when they have to take up temporary residence in constipated stylistic endeavours of invention, which in the best cases look like imitations of Philippe Starck, who has become more of an entrepreneur than a designer, yet blatantly immune to the contagion of banality.
Well aware, then, that there is nothing more old-fashioned than a fashionable project, López and Rivera imagined their hotel in Tudela to be a large inhabitable installation, more like a different concept of how to spend extra time than a vacation resort. They were assisted by the untamed natural surroundings – a desolate steppe of semidesert that cohabits with big fields of crops, one of the few livelihoods in these parts that are unique even for Spain. Indeed, it is unclear why a traveller, let alone a tourist, should come all the way to this isolated spot, if not maybe for work, or, more probably, to seek the ideal isolation for nurturing a love, or to write a book or to study the landscape, which here presents itself in an uncontaminated natural state, buffeted by wind, dust and heat. There is nothing consolatory, least of all decorative, in the image of this hotel if not the landscape itself. Besides the main building, which contains the reception desk, foyer, bar/ restaurant and several rooms, the other (different and more interesting) rooms are small pavilions that stand like white boxes on the desert soil, or on a patch of pebbles like the ones found in dry riverbeds. So López and Rivera’s inventions are of the scenic type, such as the framed panoramas formed by unusual bay windows whose giant sills are used as day beds (Gio Ponti would have appreciated this feature). Otherwise the architect’s innovations are of the resourcesaving type (materials and energy), such as the building structure, which can be dismantled and recycled, just as their client asked.
This is a successful attempt to create dry romanticism, where the sustainability of the project and its realisation is substantial and coherent, even if not on obvious display. An example is the decision to recycle the large crates used by farmers to transport fruit and vegetables as a modular windbreak for the sides with the most exposure. One datum is useful to comprehend this project better: Navarre, particularly the area along the Ebro River, where this hotel is situated, is at Europe’s avant-garde in energy savings. Currently 60 per cent of the energy used here comes from renewable sources, and the region’s objective for 2010 (that means next year) is 100 per cent. Two-thirds of this supply is obtained from wind-power plants that the English language now quaintly calls “wind farms” – electricity factories that, like the “Gone with the Wind” hotel by López and Rivera, extract and give back strength and vitality from the most immaterial of materials: air and its eternal flowing.