Postcard from Valencia, Spain: A temple to food

Whether a recipe requires fresh sea urchins (still alive), horse meat or an enormous 25-euro ostrich egg, the Mercat Central in Valencia has almost anything your culinary heart could imagine artfully displayed under a soaring dome designed to inspire.

The lively market features the wares of some 300 vendors, many willing to deliver directly to your home. But that would definitely spoil the stimulating sensory experience of wandering amongst the stalls.

This stunning temple of food replaced an earlier “New Market,” which dated from 1839. A design competition was held for a model modern market in 1910, with the new-new temple to food finally opening in January of 1928.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Another day at work on high

I have tried to close the frontier between architecture and sculpture and to understand architecture as an art.

Santiago Calatrava

First we noticed window-washers dangling to clean midlevel glass on the enormous humpbacked Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. Not a job meant for us. Then we spied another pair perched much higher, balancing on the peak of one of the topmost ridges of the opera house. Made the window-washer position appear a cakewalk.

We approached the opera house from below, walking along the pathways of a linear park stretching five miles through the heart of Valencia – Jardines del Turia. Wide enough to easily accommodate soccer fields and numerous tree-shaded bicycle and pedestrian trails, the park is sunken below street level in the former bed of the Turia River.

After more than 80 people lost their lives when the river sent floodwaters rushing through the city streets in 1957, engineers diverted the river Turin away from the center of town. What to do with the bed was debated for many years. Some wanted to pave it over to provide a quick route to the beach. Fortunately, those who wanted a park held the asphalt-lovers at bay (Does this sound familiar San Antonio?).

In the 1970s, the park was completed. Three decades later, the ample width of the riverbed provided a major opportunity for a massive economic development project on the east side of city. A Valencia-born architect and engineer, Santiago Calatrava, was selected by the city to design a string of contemporary public buildings on 90 acres of the river bed.

On an architect’s dream playground, Calatrava completed numerous monumental landmarks between 2005 and 2009, redefining the city of Valencia. These descriptions are from his website.

In recognition of the civic importance of the Opera House, Calatrava gave the building the iconographic character of a monumental sculpture. In form, the building is a series of apparently random volumes, which become unified through their enclosure within two symmetrical, cut-away concrete shells. These forms are crowned by a sweeping steel sheath, which projects axially from the entrance concourse out over the uppermost contours of the curvilinear envelope. The structure that results defines the identity of the Opera House, dramatically enhancing its symbolic and dynamic effect within the landscape, while offering protection to the terraces and facilities beneath.

http://calatrava.com/projects/palau-de-las-artes-valencia.html

The Opera House, Planetarium/IMAX Theater (Hemispheric Theater) and Príncipe Felipe Science Museum form a linear sequence from west to east. A fifth structure, known as L’Umbracle, is a promenade and parking garage, built within an open arcade that is a contemporary reinvention of the winter garden. A raised, axial walkway, offering views to the sea, serves as an ordering element, with gardens and reflecting pools on either side.

The Science Museum is a spatial tour de force, 104-meter wide and 241-meter long. Like the grand exhibition pavilions of the past, it is a longitudinal building, created from the modular development of transverse sections that repeat along the length of the site. Five concrete ‘trees,’ organized in a row, branch out to support the connection between roof and façade, on a scale that permits the integration of service cores and elevators….

The Planetarium/IMAX theater resembles a human eye, set within a 24,000 square meters pool. The ‘pupil’ is the hemispherical dome of the IMAX theater, which is transformed into a globe through its reflection in the pool. The concrete socket of the eye incorporates an ‘eyelid’ of vertical, articulated metal slats, which can be raised to permit views across the pool.

http://calatrava.com/projects/ciudad-de-las-artes-y-de-las-ciencias-valencia.html

Of course, those structures were not enough. Internationally known for his bridges, Calatrava added his second to the river – the Serreria Bridge. Almost 400 feet high, a curved pylon extends its harp-like “strings” across the former riverbed.

And wait, there’s more:

As Calatrava’s immense City of Arts and Sciences has taken shape, it became evident that the complex needs a multi-functional space, capable of accommodating large amount of audience and versatile enough to host various different types of events and activities. Calatrava therefore proposed the construction of a Agora on a site between the Sawmill Bridge and the City of Arts and Sciences’ Oceanographic building.

A diaphanous large hall, built of steel arches and a roof with glass will be crowned with a movable structure that controls the natural light and endows the otherwise horizontal building with a vertical component. This large hall will be raised slightly above the ground level. Underneath the large hall will be a lower level with seats of up to 6000 audiences as well as space for VIP rooms, dressing rooms, toilets, shops and in-house office facilities.

http://calatrava.com/projects/agora-ciudad-de-las-artes-y-las-ciencias-valencia.html

Sinful as this seems, we did not enter any of these structures. We were blocked from one or two undergoing repairs, and the higher-than-a-pyramid stairways mounting the sides of the science museum were closed (Darn?).

Instead, we skirted around and through the row of projects, soaking in their sculptural interactions with each other, the land, the cityscape and the sky.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: A metropolis in which to happily get lost

Cities are the spearhead of the most outstanding experiences and the most daring behavior, the places where the greatest development of the arts takes place. Consequently many artists choose life in the city as one of the central features of their work, with the city (often) being understood as a collage of a host of discontinuous, fragmented memories and experiences, a confused labyrinth in which the inhabitants cross paths with one another but remain immersed in their own thoughts.

Jose Miguel G. Cortes, director of IVAM

From the balcony of the apartment we are renting in Valencia, we have a personal portal into Valencia’s Institute of Modern Art, better known as IVAM. Unfortunately, all this portal permits us to see is one of the museum’s stairwells; we have to walk around to the main entrance and pay to enter.

But “Lost in the City,” an exhibition drawn from IVAM’s extensive permanent collections, was a worthwhile place to begin our stay in Spain’s third largest city. Organized around themes, the show portrays more than a century of artists’ positive and negative reactions to the growth of metropolitan areas. The snapshots below capture a few of the included works, but I was derelict in recording many of the artists’ names.

IVAM also introduced us to the works, “Corpus,” of Helena Almeida, a Portuguese artist renowned for her performance and conceptual art.

The original core of the institute’s huge collection of sculptures are by a Spaniard, Julio Gonzalez (1876-1972). Born into a family of craftsmen working in metal in Barcelona, Gonzalez yearned for more artistic expressions than construction projects allowed. Traveling to Paris to immerse himself in the thriving art community, he collaborated with Pablo Picasso in the 1920s on a series of metal sculptures that involved a mutual exchange of their creative expertise.

The harsher depictions of metropolitan scenes captured in many works in “Lost in the City” and our stark view of the museum’s portal stand in contrast to our current experiences in Valencia. The heart of this city is pedestrian and bicycle oriented. Our neighborhood is crisscrossed by a rabbit-like warren of winding narrow streets constantly interrupted by intimate plazas filled with lively cafes.

Despite its population of 800,000 residents, even strangers feel welcome in the warmth of such a walkable environment. Becoming lost under the stimulating spell of Valencia is an urban journey beckoning us daily.

Fortunately, the 1927 version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is not what life has become…. at least not here.

 

Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.

Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, 1927