Les Preses, Catalunya, Spain RCR Architectes, 2004
The project is designed by the Catalan architects Rafeal Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilata from RCR Architectes. It takes place in a protected area the Garrotxa Volcano Park in Les Preses, in Catalunya. Spain.
The Pedra Tosca Park creates an entrance to this protected area. It takes is name from the Catalan meaning of “rough rock”.
The Garrotxa Volcano Park is surrounded by the volcanic mountains of Les Preses. This area shows how successive communities worked to create arable land among the lava flow. They saw the land prosper and leaned how to use it for production. They used the boulders that had come to the surface during agricultural cultivation to create what they called “artigas”. The pilling of volcanic stone was used to raise and lower areas, to create shelter for their crops. Between those piles of stone, there are path that wave and cross. The whole place is composed of grey and black rocks with grass.
“In the Garrotxa Volcano Park in Les Preses, near Olot, we encounter a very special spot, a sea of rocks resulting from the basalt defile of the Croscat Volcano and man’s strenuous labors to win over a miserly bit of earth for cultivation by leveling and de-stoning the land and amassing all the rocks, stones and rubble into stout walls, burial mounds and huts.”
Approach The project is composed by rough corten steel walls which are supporting piles of rocks. It creates a chamber with hidden paths leading in or out of it. The rest of the project acts in such a way that it displays with the existing character of the site.
Carmen Pigem, on the designers from RCR Arquitectos, tells that the approach was more like “uncovering rather than discovering”. It is representative for all the decisions taken in relation with the existing material – the stone. The architects explain that the material used was dormant on the site. The walls are subtly designed, the vegetation enhanced, the paths revealed.
“A narrow broken line in steel enables you to cross the space, and at sporadic intervals the steel holds the protruding burial mounds in place. The zigzagging of the steel lines is counterposed to the rounded masses of rock and establishes “new clearings” here and there.”
Because of this strategy, the design of new elements like seats and signs in the park was difficult. So, these elements have been design to appear like obvious interventions. The signs stand on a plinth of concrete, with a concrete seat.
Scales The project works across different scales. All are relative to the human scale. The first one gives a new perspective of the Garrotxa Volcano Park by giving it a main entrance, by creating a doorstep.
With a work on the shape the piles and the height of the walls, there is a subtle play in way the park is “uncovered”. The wall entry is the most architectural part of the project. One of the paths faces a huge pile of stones. At the cross of the paths, the arrangement is different. The rusted steel walls are higher and reveal tight passages.
The detail of the walls gives a new grade of scale. They are composed by wide slabs of steel standing in a palisade arrangement, with gaps between them. Through those gaps can see the rocks piled and touch behind.
“The morphological and tactile ruggedness of the spot captures the eye. The project attempts to foreground the singularity of this landscape and to stimulate the surprise factor in its discovery.”
Program The project’s aim was to create an entrance and the pathway to the Garrotxa Volcano Park. It provides an infrastructure of reception for tourists who want to see the volcanic mountains of Les Preses.
The walled entry area is the most architectural part of the site. On the path from the car park one is confronted with a huge pile of small volcanic boulders. The corner point of a rusted steel wall that retains the stones reveals tight passages. This pile of rocks has a chamber at its center with three paths leading from it: one to the center from the entry, one departing into the rocky site and one returning from a field of fruit trees. All is just rock or steel.
How Even if the project is not presented as sustainable, in many ways, it is. By using the piles of rocks, it seems that the project belongs to the site. RCR’s proposition completely reveals the site without interfering with it, it is preserved. The main material is local which is a important point to emphasize in term of ecology and economy. Using the volcanic rock reflects and respects the history of the site, the old habits that belong to this area.
Not only the footprint of the project itself is minimal, but the footprint of tourism would be too. The creation of the entrance and those new paths is a way to control people and to protect the site more. The infrastructure also provided to the local tourism permits to develop the local economy.
Challenges and Opportunities The main challenge of a such project is to create an architectural object that enhances the site without interfering with it. It shows how, with a perfect knowledge of the site, its olds uses, architects can design a contemporary project that embraces the site and reveals it. The use of simple materials, that belongs to the site, is something to consider. Designing a sustainable landscape or architecture should be more observing the way that people used to build in the area where the project is implanted.