Architects: Ignacio Quemada Arquitectos
Location: Donostia-San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Architect In Charge: Ignacio Quemada
Design Team: Leticia Uribe, Maitane Urdangarín, Nagore Armendáriz, Ibón Pérez Murguiondo
Structure: José Antonio Gurruchaga
Installations: JG Ingenieros
Technical Architect: Daniel Barroso
Landscape: LUR Paisajistak
Photography: Alejo Bagué
In July of 2003, the Donostia – San Sebastian Local Authority held the “Competition for ideas for the urban organisation of the area made up of the Finca Montpellier and Plaza Benta Berri”. The deliverable had to include 50 apartments for young people and a nursery.
The Montpellier estate, a hillside with a 26 metre drop, was occupied by the ruins of the old Montpellier Franciscan Sisters College, surrounded by what used to be its garden, in a state of utter neglect. As a private, walled estate it was becoming an island within the urban fabric, an obstacle to connections between the upper and lower parts of the district, a situation that was becoming increasingly acute as the changes being made at its borders were out of line with the topography on the other side of the estate’s boundary. The result was that there would be no continuity when the boundary was removed, short of abutting it into a block of fanciful shapes.
The incorporation of the estate into municipal ownership presented the opportunity to reverse the situation, such that the garden, turned into a public park, would be transformed into a connecting space, in addition enhancing the urban role of Plaza Benta Berri, hitherto hemmed in between the traffic and the estate boundary. The incorporation of the estate into the public space required intervention around the whole of its perimeter: Sansustene alley was widened and lengthened, the estate’s contours were modified in order to link it to the hill located to the south and other access points, etc. Plaza Benta Berri was enlarged, connecting it to the park by means of the ramp which links to the surface of the square with the zig-zag path which runs through the park to its centre, from which paths run to the extension of Sansustene, to the north, or to the stairs which climb to the Aizkorri to the south east. The layout of the park is the result of its new role as connecting space.
While the old college building occupied the centre of the estate, the new building is located to one side, perpendicular to the position of the old, freeing up the park’s central space. A passageway through the building and a terrace in front of it provide continuity between the park and the hill located to the south.
Laid out along the line of maximum incline, the building provides a link between the lowest and highest areas of the estate, from Aizcorri street at a height of +36, where it starts with only two floors, through to a height of +23 from which a walkway and lift connect to Benta Berri square at an elevation of +10. Another public lift built into the body of the building, and accessible from the walkway, bridges the entire height differential between the square and Aizkorri. The nursery with 102 places occupies the ground floor and the semi-basement, while the apartments take up the upper four floors. The storage rooms are located in the areas built into the hill.
To soften its impact on the square, the building has a terraced profile. For this purpose, the floors are displaced backwards one relative to the next, with the apartments, and therefore the spaces in the facade, symmetrically staggered. It was this geometry for the elevations which inspired the idea of conceiving each recess as a single prefabricated piece. The framework for the recesses having been placed in position, held by the slabs and the heavy brick leaf of the ventilated facade, the spaces between them are then covered with insulation and an outer leaf of terracota pieces which are used throughout the building including exterior roofs of overhangs and passageways. The result is a construction system which accords with the sculptural composition of the elevations and body of the building.
To create the spaces, we selected the surround system manufactured by Composites Jareño which is made from a single piece in a sandwich configuration, with two layers of reinforced thermostable resin and an injected polyurethane foam nucleus. The whole building is finished with four types of surround, the main one being the one which shapes the space for each apartment and which also incorporates the balcony overhang.