Friday, January 18, 2008


Eyesore wrecks waterfront


By Sharon Bruce
January 18, 2008

The fences have come down around a prestige new building on the Cartagena waterfront. It would be good if they went right back up again. Normally a reporter just reports and personal opinions aren't allowed. But after going along to see the new building that will house Spain's national museum of underwater archaeology, an exception has to be made. The building takes no account whatsoever of its location in one of the world's most beautiful and historic harbours. Since Phoenician times graceful ships have been sailing in and out of Cartagena. In the 18th century the city became Spain's main naval base in the Mediterranean and many beautiful buildings were built. Anyone looking at the new building for the Museo Nacional de Arqueología Subacuática de Cartagena, would be forgiven for wondering if it is a multi-storey car park.

Admittedly, the building is empty at present and the exhibits will now be installed for an opening predicted for the summer. However, in my view, it seems difficult to understand how the architect and those who approved the design have so overlooked the waterfront setting of the building. This is a national government building, so the Cartagena town hall and Murcia regional government can't be blamed. The front of the building that will be seen by the tens of thousands of visitors who arrive on cruise ships every year is dull and uninteresting. All that can be seen, from the water, of the giant letters that spell out the name of the museum is 'Museo Nacional de...' The rest of the lettering is hidden behind the front section of the building that features grey slats and concrete facing the harbour.

A vast amount of space is wasted, in my view, with a huge atrium leading down into a basement where the exhibits will be displayed. Of course, this is a personal point of view and others like the sense of space and openness that the design provides. I would have put in an extra floor at ground level of the front section. And, throughout the building I would have capitalised on sea views. But, then I am not an architect. It seems difficult to understand the decision not to include in the design any reference, no matter how small, to nautical elements such as sails, waves, anchors or the many other symbols of the sea. Inside, the building does have some excellent features such as the gently sloping floors.

A lift is in place to take people up to what will be a small café on the first floor, but anyone using the open metal steps had better take care. The first floor could have been extended across the front of building to take full advantage of the beautiful harbour views. The estimated cost of the project is put at 20.5 million euros and it should have been finished years ago. People wanting to see some really good design should look at the playground, built by the town hall, not the national government, right next to the museum. There, a happy pirate ship for the kids has an appropriately nautical theme. Still, I suppose these are modern times and governments have fathered some of the worst architectural horrors in beautiful and ancient cities around the world. Why should Cartagena be any different?


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