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Catalan clarity.

Instilled with an invigorating clarity of form, materiality and purpose, this municipal sports centre in Girona is a crisply honed exercise in stripped, functional elegance.

Located on the edge of the Catalan town of Girona, this new municipal sports centre by Esteve Bonell and Josep Gil provides sporting facilities for the surrounding region. Bonell, in particular, is on familiar territory - with partner Francesc Rius he designed the basketball arena in Badalona for the Barcelona Olympics, (AR August 1992, pp50-54). Widely regarded as one of the best buildings of the Olympic programme, the Badalona arena was an inspired synthesis of geometric purity and stripped elegance. Moreover, despite its immense size, it was mercifully free from the contemporary scourges of wilful complexity and applique inventiveness.

This latest building has a similarly inviting clarity of purpose. The form is essentially a response to the challenging topography - the difference in levels between a peripheral road and an adjoining park establishes the strong front-to-back configuration of the two principal facades. The changes in level also mean that most of the bulky volume of the internal arena is absorbed underground. At street level, the main north-west frontage registers as a deceptively modest horizontal sliver, comprising a glazed entrance slot topped by a raw concrete wall. The rear of the building on the south-east side is a virtually identical composition except that because of the difference in level across the site, the horizontal bands of the elevation are poised at the top of a marvellously heroic staircase. There is a logic to this calmly imposing yet, crucially, unoppressive grandeur - in time, the south-east facade will constitute a pivotal organisational element for a great sports park, yet to be developed. At present, the terrain is thickly wooded and the new building cuts an angular dash as it rises above the trees.

The two longer flanks of the building are punctuated by a series of delicate, gill-like insertions. Escape staircases dock into each opening, their structure and purpose clearly expressed, bringing a humanising sense of articulation to the massive side walls. Transparent canopies, suspended by a skein of tensile wires, reinforce the bas-relief effect, casting spindly, rippling shadows over the stark surface of fair-faced concrete panels.

Despite the obvious differences in size, the plan has residual echoes of Badalona. The upper entrance level is effectively the rim of a horseshoe-shaped bowl, with tiers of seating sloping down to the gladiatorial arena below. Underneath the banks of seating are changing facilities, storage spaces and a trio of squash courts. Underneath the plinth at the south-east end of the building is a training hall and gymnasium. Walking around the entrance level, the visitor is unaware of the subterranean intricacies concealed below. Instead, the prevailing sensations are of drama and light, orchestrated by a heady eruption of scale, as the building seamlessly expands from meditative cloister around the perimeter to the full-blown, cavernous maw of seats and spectacle at the heart of the building. The arena itself is an expression of pure form, like a classical amphitheatre, or perhaps more appropriately, in this Spanish context, a bullring. Daylight penetrates the bowels of the cavern from symmetrical ranks of saw-toothed rooflights and also filters in from the perimeter cloisters.

Informed by elegant economies of form and materiality, Bonell & Gil's building works as both a social focus and modest civic monument. The complex has the lean, muscular poise of a gymnast, distilled with invigorating clarity into tautly functional architecture.
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Title Annotation:sports facility in Gerona, Spain
Author:Bertolucci, Carla
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Dec 1, 1995
Words:575
Previous Article:Sporting gesture.
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