Gallery: VIDEO: Inhabitat Interviews Metropol Parasol Architect Juergen...

The Dupli Casa, a private residence by the Neckar river, near the old town of Marbach in south-western Germany.

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Inhabitat: How did you get your start in architecture?

Juergen Mayer: I found a book, which had a picture of Erich Mendelsohn’s Shocken department store, in Stuttgart. It was such a beautiful building that was dealing with light, and a very sculptural expression of modern architecture in the city. It opened my eyes to the beauty of the built environment, and this building in particular took such an artistic approach to its form. At the time I was interested in sculpture, but it felt easier to work on a larger scale in my studies. I then expanded the discipline towards art, design, communication, and then, of course, architecture.

Inhabitat: Let’s talk about the Metropol Parasol.  This is the world’s largest wooden structure and it just opened in Seville, Spain.  Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in that project and what inspired you to design it in wood?

Juergen Mayer: Metropol Parasol was a competition that we won in 2004, which was about creating a new, iconic piece for Seville that could also create a new idea for an urban space in the 21st century. What we proposed was a structure that sits on the Roman ruins, which is an archeology museum now. The Metropol Parasol brings back the food market, which was there before, and it also provides visitors with a mode to be elevated up above the horizon line of the buildings.

Besides being the largest wood / timber construction in the world, it might also be the largest one that has a glued, bonding technology. All of the joints are actually held together by a special glue that was developed about two or three years ago. While there are some nails, the steel connections are actually glued into the wood with like long fork-like steel rods. This is a very new technology, and to transfer the forces from one element to the other was actually the most innovative part in the structure of the building.

Inhabitat: Can you walk on top of it?

Juergen Mayer: Yes, it has a panoramic platform and there’s a restaurant on top. It has a very kind of seducing atmosphere up there, it’s like being on a cloud above the city.

Inhabitat: What’s been the response you’ve had so far?

Juergen Mayer: Since it opened people are really excited about it. There was some doubt before because it was such a different and new architectural language, but since it opened and became accessible, it’s been extremely busy. People like it — they hang out there at night, they go up — I think they have 1,700 people a day visiting the top right now, so it’s really becoming part of the city.

Inhabitat: Was there an element of drawing upon nature for inspiration in this design?

Juergen Mayer: We had some references from the city. One was some big trees on a neighboring plaza — we are doing the same type of thing in a built version. There are also references to the Seville Cathedral, which has this beautiful, undulating stone roof. The structure inside of the Cathedral was also inspiration for the form of the Metropol Parasol.  We sometimes call our project an urban, democratic, open cathedral that is held together by the people and the life in the center of the city.

Inhabitat: It seems that you have an organic quality and also a mathematical pattern thing going on with a lot of your work – certainly the Metropol Parasol …

Juergen Mayer: The digital world, of course, factors into our approach, it shapes how we design things and how we understand our built environment. For this project, using contemporary software was part of the production process, not just the design process — it really is a guiding force. However, what we are really interested in is what does this information and technology do to our built environments?

I have this obsession with the data protection patterns you find on the inside of envelopes, for example. This is exactly the way we control access to personal information, or camouflage or blur personal information from a public; a neutral face. These forms of control and access, of enveloping space, enveloping a certain kind of environment, this is interesting for us.

Inhabitat: Are you concerned with sustainability in your designs?

Juergen Mayer: Sustainability is one of the most important issues in architecture; building design has to work on a functional level, it has to work on a sustainability level, it also has to work on an aesthetic level, so I think it is one of the many parameters that helps us define our environment. We like to approach it with a more complex definition than what people normally understand as “sustainability”.

The interesting part of sustainability for us – besides trying to be “good” and do the right thing – is that it moves the attention of architecture again back to the future. Post-modernism and Deconstructivism were always so concerned with referencing the past, or anchoring a building in some sort of tradition. Sustainability flips this focus back to the future and creates a certain hope and idealism for a better future. Architecture is always about a better future, otherwise nobody would invest in it or care about it, right?

Video by Jonathan Wing


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  1. joeyrobots February 11, 2014 at 10:36 am

    I recently visited and I have to say I was surprised. I didn’t realize that the parasol covers a one story building. To walk under the parasol you have to climb the stairs to the top of the building, where you are met with a vast empty concourse . I guess I expected the plaza to be typical of Spain, a lively public space with cafe tables and people enjoying caña in the shade, but it was absolutely dead. Unfortunately the dearth of street life really detracted from the work for me. Instead of feeling celebratory it felt like another failure among the Spanish governments insane development schemes. I know the architect can’t always control the program, but really this was disappointing. We walked down to the Alcazar and Plaza de Espana where people actually want to be. Colorwise too it seems like a cheery light wood in photos, but up close its just sort of a nasty flat beige, like the color of ugly pants.

  2. architexture August 8, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Beautiful structure! It reminds me of a chair I saw at the Salone de mobile in 2002.

  3. emily @ EcoSalon August 7, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I live in Seville, right down the street from “the mushroom” as it is popularly called, and one question I’ve always had is about the choice of wood. The summer heat is sweltering, as such even in the construction of houses very little wood is used. Rarely will you even see hardwood floors because of morphing and concerns about insulation in the summer heat. Instead, marble or tile is far more typical.

    While the structure is amazing, I wonder if it’s better suited to the climate of Germany than Andalucia.

  4. Wilko August 5, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Dear Jeff, this is Wilko from J.MAYER H.
    To your question: Yes the timber-construction is covered with sparyed on polyurethane for protection.

  5. jeffbarrettdesign August 5, 2011 at 3:01 am

    Now this I have to see. Jurgen we must have been channeling each other a few years back. Check our your sister project:

    Cool thing is yours got built.
    Nice work
    Oh, I wonder what type of UV coating is on this? Polyurethane?

    Jeff (Home Green)

  6. Yuka Yoneda July 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    I didn’t know you can walk on top of it. Incredible!

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