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Roll out the barrel: RSH+P balances conflicting demands of production and cultural tourism at Protos winery.

As one of the first completed buildings by the restructured Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSH+P), formerly Richard Rogers Partnership, it is reassuring, but not surprising, to discover the practice has not taken rebranding too far. When discussing the new Protos winery in the Castilla y Leon region of north Spain, Graham Stirk is keen to underline the practice's core concerns in each architectural response: city and context, public domain, legibility, flexibility, energy and teamwork.

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Stirk, one of five RSH+P senior directors, delves into the archive to place the origins of this project in the Reliance Controls electronics factory: the seminal Team 4-designed industrial shed, co-authored by practice founder and chairman Richard Rogers in partnership with Norman Foster and their respective wives, Su and Wendy, in 1962. Situated on the outskirts of Swindon in the west of England, the building unified the traditionally separate blue- and white-collar working structure, not only anticipating many of the current practice's concerns, but also the social significance of team dynamics and operational efficiency. Since then, RSH+P has produced only six industrial buildings, the most recent being Inmos Microprocessor Factory in Newport, South Wales, completed in 1987. As such, Protos takes the practice into new territory, not only requiring a vast production facility capable of processing one million kilograms of grapes per year, but more importantly, in consideration of context and public domain, a building that forms a physical and emblematic focus for Bodegas Protos, a cooperative of over 240 winegrowers, established in 1927 in the Ribera del Duero region.

Situated on the edge of Penafiel, in the shadow of its picturesque castle (now home of the Museo Provincial del Vino), Protos is unlike other celebrated winery premises in the region, such as the hotel at Marques de Riscal by Canadian-born Frank Gehry and the Ysios winery at Alava by Spaniard Santiago Calatrava, both within easy reach. While these are set in expansive vineyard landscapes, Protos is in a more gritty setting, the periphery of a historic townscape.

As Stirk remarks with measured criticism,'a shed with a hairdo' would not have been appropriate here. Neither would the other prevalent option of tourist-attraction-cum-production-facility: the sham hacienda in which themed front-of-house dress conceals low-quality production spaces in lightweight tin sheds--'environmental disasters' in Stirk's words.

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RSH+P avoided both pitfalls, characteristically starting its design process from first principles, considering the winery as a distinct form of building type. The result is by no means neutral or mechanical and, through careful consideration of programme and physical context, the building gains its own identity. Taking clues from, but not competing with, the castle, it sits within its own rampart walls (made from limestone quarried in Campaspero, a village 15km south-east of Penafiel) which neatly conceal ventilation and servicing requirements. These walls bind the boundary into a symmetrical segmental plan, tapering in elevation as they rise out of the sloping terrain to create a strong horizontal datum. This then cuts across the building's section, dividing structural and organisational systems, as five elegant timber paraboloids hop, skip and jump over a thermally stable, buried concrete box.

The wine-making process can be divided into three stages; accordingly this building is also divisible by three in both section and plan. In section, ageing, fermentation and processing are stacked. In plan, each of the three points of the triangle forms a key entrance. Public and service access is at either end of the wall along the thick end of the wedge, which contains offices, tasting suites and a teardrop-shaped sunken garden, and a generous barn-like canopy at the apex, where grapes are delivered by queues of tractors during harvest.

The distinctive profile of the roof, which articulates the separate layers of structure and skin, is reminiscent of Renzo Piano's fine Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church in southern Italy (AR September 2004), on which Stirk worked while taking a sabbatical from the Rogers office in 1994. At that time, Rogers' designs were almost exclusively in steel and glass, and so working with Piano enabled Stirk to experience a richer palette of materials as well as forms. Since his return, alongside a fresh generation of architects, the practice has completed a new breed of buildings, with projects like Madrid Barajas International Airport (AR July 2006) and the Welsh Assembly (AR February 2006) adding timber and stone to its palette. Use of these materials has defrosted the practice's cool machine aesthetic. As the first of RSH+P's industrial designs to extensively feature natural materials, Protos takes on something of the status of the practice's other civic and cultural buildings.

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Despite associations with Padre Pio, Stirk attributes development of the structure to Arup, the engineer that helped to achieve this most efficient and graceful result. From less expressive trabeated steel structures, through barrel vault options, to the final parabolic arch, the engineers were able to halve the structural depth from 1,200mm to 600mm. This yielded significant material and cost savings, producing what is essentially an array of conjoined lightweight barns. An agricultural building for an agricultural community--what could possibly be more fitting? Echoing the continuity of its own office rebranding, in which the vintage of Richard Rogers successfully blended into an all-new RSH+P, the architect has created one of the world's most compelling new wineries, in one of the most beautiful settings. Very much the best of a good crop--and the wine's not bad, either.

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Architect

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, London

Structural engineer

Arup, Boma, Agroindus

Services engineer

BDSP, Grupo JG, Agroindus

Photographs

Paul Raftery, VIEW
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Title Annotation:Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Mar 1, 2009
Words:947
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