The storied Palace at Aiete Park is a landmark in San Sebastian, Spain, whose historic and cultural value has been enhanced by a very modern expansion that stretches below the neo-classical residence. Now home to the Human Rights Institute, the remodel and addition are part of the great contemporary architecture movement of seamlessly fusing historic buildings with modern wings (a practice that we love). Like the Louvre's underground expansion with its iconic glass pyramid or the massive visitor center at the Capitol Building in Washington DC, the Palace of Aiete's new add-on is a beaut; the only difference is that it sports a huge grassy park instead of a hardscape.
By sweeping underground and opening to the daylight with a angular façade, Isuuru Architects made a workplace and visitor center that does not compete with the original palace’s sensibility. Built in the late 19th century for Spain’s royalty to escape to, the palace served as Dictator Francisco Franco’s summer retreat. Now home to the Human Rights Institute, the expansion serves to correct not only the condition of the palace, but also the intention.
The subterranean expansion begins below the palace itself and offers office space and connectivity for the Institute’s operation on the first floor. The second floor of the restored palace serves as a public interpretation center, providing space for workshops and displays of the history and role of the facility.
An oval light shaft links the new with old, allowing access to the contemporary workspace below. The addition is covered in a robust green roof that serves as the palace’s front lawn. The opening peeks out well beyond the historic structure with an angular series of glass and support posts. The green glass enhances the visual connection with the larger landscape.
The clean interior is all about contemporary space, made even more pronounced in relation to the neo classic palatial details which were so lovingly restored. A stark white interior in the expansion helps daylight penetrate deeply into the sunken space. The complex becomes a study in relationships of architecture between the centuries and of how to succinctly add high green design to classic buildings.