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Inscrutable and hermetic on the outside, with its rugged, cork-clad walls, the Spanish pavilion conceals a luminous public plaza at its heart.

Seen from the street, the Spanish pavilion is inscrutable, a blocky mass riven by five deep crevices and raised on uneven and irregularly placed columns. The dense natural texture of the cork with which it is clad contributes to the impression of impermeability and at the same time makes the building intriguing, drawing you towards it.

Cruz y Ortiz's architecture of surprise postulates a distinction between exterior and interior, transition, a sense of discovery. Here, you move from the rugged irregularities of the pavilion's exterior into a soaring white space, precisely articulated, pyramidal in section and capped by an enormous rooflight. This is the architects' recreation of the Spanish plaza, a space to be discovered, undetectable from outside the building.

The square, elegantly paved, is set with tables and benches composed of massive blocks of pale stone (a cool relief in Spain but cold to sit on in this melancholy climate) between clipped hedges. Visitors are served by a tapas bar/restaurant which runs the length of the back (west) wall and is part of a rectangular block lining this side of the pavilion. Conceptually the sober anchor of the scheme, the block also contains offices and meeting rooms.

From the floor of the luminous plaza, a staircase curves up to the first floor and exhibition, designed with great invention and intelligence (and little money) by King Miranda Associat. It is here that you appreciate the significance of the deep clefts cut into the pavilion envelope.

Running around the edge of the big light-well, the exhibition space is carved by the crevices at its periphery into a series of six peninsulas. Each of these has been transformed by the designers into a different theatre to convey something of the spirit and character of Spain -- and thereby something of the history, peoples and landscape that inform them. Within the theatres, ideas, sensations, facts are conveyed by multiple film projections, light, sound and narration. The visit has been designed as a crescendo, beginning with a filmic reconstruction of the first Europeans (whose remains have been discovered in the Sierra de Atapuerca near Burgos), and ending with lively forays into contemporary Spanish art.

Exhibition designers constrained by the confines and character of somebody else's building often have an unenviable task. King and Miranda seemed to have coped admirably. Their invasion of the upper reaches of the pavilion is both entertaining and full of vigour.
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Title Annotation:Spanish plaza described
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Previous Article:PAPER PALACE.

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