This interview was originally published July 2011
The Metropol Parasol was arguably the most important structure to open last year, and it has without doubt come to be one of the most photographed new architectural works of the decade. Designed by German architect Juergen Mayer, the beautiful and monumental work is the world’s largest wooden structure, and has quickly become a new focal point for the city of Seville, Spain. Throwing back to the city’s marketplace tradition, and paving the way for a new era of design innovation, the Metropol Parasol is a signal moment in architectural culture. Recently, our very own Editor-in-Chief, Jill Fehrenbacher, sat down with Mayer in New York City to talk about his inspiration for the design. Mayer also talks about the impact of digital technology on the architectural world, and what sustainability means for design. Hit jump to see a VIDEO of the interview, or click through our gallery above for all of Mayer’s insight!
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