architect José María Sánchez García
project International Centre for Sports Innovation, Guijo Granadilla, Caceres, Spain
written by Iñaqui Carnicero

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The International Centre for Sports Innovation in the natural environment is located near the village of the Gabriel y Galán dam, in Guijo de Granadilla, Cáceres, in the western part of Spain, near the Portuguese border. The terrain is a peninsula, in contact with the waters of the reservoir around its perimeter except for a narrow passage which forms the southern access.  


The secret of success of this important example of contemporary architecture lies not in its own presence; on the contrary it leaves all the attention to the extraordinary natural qualities of the site. It gives a new value to a group of trees embraced by its circular plan that never thought to get this value and relevance in the site before the building was finished.


The second important hit resides in the collision between geometries. From a distance, if we observe an aerial view of the building, it is easy to understand how the building explains itself by adapting its geometry to the limits of the peninsula. The flexible inconstant limits of the land change constantly according to the water level in contrast with the perfect geometry of the circle that encloses the central area.


The major difficulty of this project was how to organize a large programme with many specific interconnected areas: special facilities for research into new techniques and materials, training of professionals, the diffusion of natural activities and the creation of new companies and entrepreneurs, locker rooms, the residence for researchers, the cafeteria, the dining room, various test benches, and storage and locker rooms. The amount of square metres needed to solve all the programme requirements required thinking of a large-scale building with a strong impact on the peninsula and the surrounding nature. The brilliant solution consisted in stretching the programme in a very narrow bay that avoids removing any of the existing trees located in the site, defining a very long construction that is forced by the site to adopt a circular geometry.


The result is a perfect combination of attending to the site limits while respecting the existing trees and also an intelligent answer to the deadline requirements by which the building had to be completed in six months. This constraint forced a decision to simplify the construction process. The structure is made primarily of steel, the main beams covering a maximum of 7 metres, separated by 2.5 metres. The vertical structural elements are also of steel. The floors have been constructed using steel floor-decking systems. The foundations have been made of reinforced concrete co­ming from the resistance substrate 2.20 metres below ground level.


The building has a circular footprint but the architect skilfully avoids constraining the form of the materials, resul­ting in a building with a very elementary catalogue of beams and pillars.


To avoid physical barriers the ring rises from the ground in a gesture that tries to clear out the ground floor giving this space back to nature. The relation between the first level and the ground with a changeable topography defines variable cross sections where the building sometimes rises above the trees and sometimes hides itself behind the slope of the land.


The building is integrated into the environment so that its volume becomes part of the landscape. Thanks to the stainless-steel sheet of the façade, it disappears because it reflects the surrounding landscape, the changing light, the movement of leaves in the wind or the flight of birds; the building becomes a chameleon in the environment.


Even though the total cir­cum­ference of the building is 650 m the perception in the site is always fragmented. The group of trees that colonize the centre of the peninsula prevents a view of the whole and that fixes an appropriate scale in the relationship with the landscape. The different relations between the ring and the ground level lead us to believe in separate independent buildings. Only after reaching the terrace level do we understand its unity. The roof is flat and fully accessible. It works like a promenade which gives a complete overview of the activities in the peninsula, on the water and its surroundings.


These intelligent decisions have converted what could have been an ordinary building into an abstract object that could be considered as piece of land art that already belongs to one of the most extraordinary landscapes in Extremadura.