The Ciudad de Cultura de Galicia
By almost all accounts the Ciudad de Cultura de Galicia was a complete and total disaster. Designed by Peter Eisenman, and commissioned in 1999 during an economic boom-time by the region's former rightwing premier, Manual Fraga, construction on the project was halted indefinitely in 2013 due to cost overruns in the wake of the financial crisis. By that time, the building was only half complete, but the bill had quadrupled, totalling more than €400m. In an era when Spain was spiralling into a devastating recession, it's no surprise the project lost the support of the public. Today, the building receives few visitors, with other sites in town, such as the main Cathedral, drawing the lion-share of tourists.
Architecture is nearly impossible. Buildings are some of the most costly projects human engage in. Their construction can span years, if not decades or, in some cases, centuries. Some architects die before their creations are completed, dedicating their lives to the projects, which aren't always received with unanimous public or political support. In fact, it's often quite the opposite — some architects are absolutely reviled by the public for creating what critics say are monuments to monumental egos. Then there is the bureaucracy, the unending, mental-breakdown inducing bureaucracy. It is often cited as the primary reason an architect will leave the profession, and is characterized by an infinite amount of checks and balances to ensure the building satisfy the whims of all those who claim ownership over the design, last of which seems to be the architect himself.
Yet, despite these hardships, architecture accomplishes what seems nearly impossible. It serves as the mechanism for some of the most important social institutions, like law (the courts), medicine (hospitals), and education (universities). It blends cultures and opinions in halls of political assembly, and it fosters community and morality in places of worship. It can create rich atmospheres of experience where occupants report transcendental moments. It's timeless too, often outlasting the lives of its builders or even the civilizations in which they were built.
The Ciudad de Cultura de Galicia sits atop Monte Gaiás hill, overlooking Santiago do Compostelo. From the city, the structure appears to vault out of the earth, like an ancient tectonic plate shifted from a massive earthquake. The six buildings that comprise the Ciudad all sit demurely back from the crest of the hill, allowing visitors, rather than the architecture, to occupy the best viewpoints. The buildings themselves look as they they were carves from the earth below as opposed to being inserted post-hoc, built out of a rich local stone assembled in a haphazard manner, the same way mother nature composes. Visitors explore the site through massive canyons between the buildings, not unlike how they would explore the grand canyon or some other geological wonder. On every surfaces, horizontal or vertical, lines lines tracing historic trade and pilgrimage routes are branded, a clear marker of the area's rich history. The architecture is at once incredibly modern yet also historic, monumental yet human-scale, conspicuous yet demure.
Architecture is nearly impossible. Yet there it is, the Ciudad de Cultura de Galicia, right in front of you. Not only possible, but present. Not only present, but timeless.