Contemporary Visual Culture Center

San Sebastián. Spain | 2008

San Sebastián City Council

The importance exerted by early twentieth century industrial architecture on city configuration is well documented. Large, austere buildings were constructed, almost always sporadically, along the outskirts of the large cities. Linked by roads, those simple and considerable volumes constituted hermetic boxes whose interiors enclosed frenetic activity, only apparent in the encounters with the exterior. At present, when many of these productive structures have been forgotten or abandoned, the need to recycle them into the urban collective is more imperative than ever. Quoting Lewis Mumford, it is time for the city “to convert power into form, energy into culture and dead matter into the living symbols of art”.

The outline of the Visual Culture Center is that of a great interior space within an utterly urban object, the result of visual and sculptural staging exercise. An empty space treated as a street-theater, open to the outside and a sequence of planes and stairs to the rest of the building, whose mission is not only functional organization but, ultimately, to represent the culture of the visual. The principal change in the existing building is to substitute one of the interior bodies with another one whose geometry allows a substantially rational floor plan. This operation takes the shape of four patios or large interior spaces of identical size connecting directly to the street or empty interior as extensions.

The present roof of the building is replaced by a larger entity that increases the existing useful space and accommodates the more limited uses. The fundamental purpose of this second stage is to make the city aware of the recovery of the Tobacco Factory in a simple but visible way, not at all traumatic but instead delicate, careful and subtle. The perception of this new upper volume has been considered from both the pedestrian and higher levels, since it deals with a surface treated as a canvas whose manifestation directly refers to industrial images.