Spanish city seeks revival with Niemeyer project
The northern industrial town of Aviles will open a new cultural center with modern design, and hopefully a more cultural appeal to the area.Aviles -- Spain's northern industrial city of Aviles hopes a new cultural centre designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer will transform it into a cultural capital, as the Guggenheim Museum revived Bilbao.
The huge white main dome of the building was inaugurated on 15 December, Niemeyer's 103rd birthday. It boasts the sensuous concrete curves that define his distinctive modernist style and which has made him one of the world's most famous architects.
The dome juts out like a giant flying saucer onto the esplanade of the centre, which is being built in a port area in what in the 1950s was the heart of the northern city's steel industry, before the sector fell into decline.
"Fifteen years ago people would say that Aviles has no tourist future because it has an image as a polluted and rundown city. Today all that has changed," said Aviles mayor Pilar Valera.
The Oscar Niemeyer Cultural Centre will feature an auditorium, a sight-seeing tower, an exhibition centre and a large outdoor square that will serve as a venue for cultural activities when it opens in March 2011.
The Aviles project has already drawn at least one high-profile visitor to the city -- US actor Brad Pitt, who takes a keen interest in architecture, toured the site as it was being built last year with a group of architects.
The building will cost the regional government of Asturias between EUR 40 and 50 million to build and the centre will have an annual budget of EUR 4 million.
Instead of housing a permanent collection, the centre will stage temporary exhibits that will change every six months as well concerts, movie screenings and theatre performances. The first exhibit will be dedicated to the theme of "light", said the director of the centre, Natalio Grueso.
"It is a symbol for this city, which was for years one of Europe's most polluted and to which Niemeyer's white forms will give it a new light," he added.
Aviles is ringed by line upon line of grim factories erected when the steel industry was in full force. Today the city is shifting its focus to high-tech industries and renewable energy.
The cultural centre is at the heart of a project called "Innovation Island" where new technology businesses will rub shoulders with sports facilities, leisure spaces and a huge promenade.
At first, said Valera, there was "a bit of scepticism" from residents, but they have come around to the project. Local shops are already selling a pastry covered in powdered sugar in the shape of the dome of the centre.
"It has bizarre shapes, but it's not bad. We have to wait until it is completely finished," said Laura Hernandez, a 20-year-old student, of the centre as she walked in the arcaded centre of Aviles' old town.
Grueso said both Avila's cultural centre and the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao "were designed by legendary architects, who took part in the transformation of a rundown urban environment."
Most famous for designing Brazil's ultramodern capital city of Brasilia, Niemeyer has masterminded more than 600 projects around the world, including the headquarters for the United Nations in New York.
He once famously said that the stylized swoops in his buildings were inspired by the curves of "the Brazilian woman".
Niemeyer's numerous awards include the Pritzker, described as the equivalent of a Nobel prize for the world of architecture, which he won in 1988.
Gabriel Rubio / AFP / Expatica