The New Cabildo of Alejandro De La Sota

In the 90’s of the last century the municipality of Las Palmas decided to refurbish the old Cabildo Insular, aiming to renovate that part of the city that lost its importance year after year; then the administration chose the design of Alejandro De La Sota, a Galician architect.
This enlargement is in the course of construction, so it’s good to analyze the original designs and sketches of the architect and the parts of the building that are already completed.
The design of the architect Alejandro De La Sota is an extension of the original building planned preserving its aesthetical values and basic shapes. So it’s interesting to focus on the two new volumes added to the existing building. These blocks and Miguel Martin’s Cabildo are integrated with a polymeric white skin which smoothens the complex, with a fine treatment to solar incidence; a up shutters structure covers the inner space in front of a big plaza. Alejandro de la Sota uses also subtle devices to attain the independence of the singular parts, distinguishing his new building from Miguel Martin’s one.
Air has a considerable importance in this intervention: it serves as connector and as divisor at the same time. A clear example is recognizable on the east side of the complex: the volume designed for cultural use is separated from the dividing wall as from the rationalist building through a narrow glass fissure.
On the south side a wall made with blinds divides the old Cabildo from the new block designed for the local administration.
The most revealing purpose of Alejandro De La Sota was the reinforce of the character of the building as public space open to the exterior. In fact he created a passage at the interior of the building, like the one which would link Calle Bravo Murillo with the new little square passing through the new volume of the council hall. Calle Pérez Galdós would get back to be a pedestrian street, connecting the new Cabildo with the Centro insular de Cultura through a large cloth covering.

Miguel Martin Fernandez De La Torre and Alejandro De La Sota: two rationalist architects

The two projects are of notable interest. The canarian architect conceived a building of great relevance, absolutely groundbreaking in a context  where the rationalist architecture began to be accepted. He designed a building of great formal clearness and simple grandness, where volumes are put with a precise distribution of inside services. The tower, as I’ve already said in another article, is the only element of the building that takes away from functional rules; notwithstanding this, it assumes a great symbolic charge, being the real “genius loci” of the building.

As a matter of fact, the Cabildo had to be an important point of reference for the town, and streets of intense traffic converged towards the building, which tower served as focal point. It can be understood why a clock was put on the tower subsequently, even if it wasn’t present in Miguel Martin’s designs. This element is diffused in the historical architecture _typical examples are the belfries, the gothic spires, the municipal towers_ but has in any case notable references in the coeval architecture: examples are the Berlage’s tower of the Stock Exchange of Amsterdam, or the Casa del Fascio in Italy.
In my opinion, Alejandro De La Sota has the merit of having improved the building of the Cabildo, beyond its simple enlargement; doing that he recalled the best days of this structure. After 60 years since its construction, the Cabildo gradually lost part of its importance in the urban fabric,
due to urban social and political changes; if before it was distinguishable among buildings in eclectic and modern style, thanks to their low height, the constructions erected after the Cabildo hidden it.
De La Sota wanted therefore to revalue this symbol of the rationalist architecture giving him a new grandeur, represented by the two volumes that approach and dominate it. This grandeur is further emphasized by the covering _easily removable_ in white plates that homogenizes the whole complex, making it well distinguishable again among the buildings of the outskirts.
The intelligence of the Galician architect doesn’t stop here: he wanted to underline the distinction between the old structure and the new one realizing subtle cuts in glass among the volumes in question, as I’ve already said before. A similar choice can be find in Carlo Scarpa intervention for the museum of Castelvecchio in Verona or in Robert Venturi extension of the National Gallery of London. In De La Sota’s intervention this element turns into art in the space that divides the old Cabildo from the new rooms of the administration; the great skylight that dominates the court has identical tiles that seem to refer to Mondrian’s mythical paintings and to the colors of De Stijl movement. The symbolic charge of the building is present also in the oriental block, set aside for cultural use; even if it’s still in construction, it’s possible to see the structure of the new council hall, made of a steel structure that assumes the shape of a head. As brain is the base of choices and of thinking, then the council hall
represents the mind, the administrative centre of the whole building, of the town and the island.

In De La Sota’s design is recognizable the “multi-directionality” of the new complex: he comes to radicalize the openness and the communication towards the outside of the Cabildo. If in Miguel Martin’s work the openness of the building had a symbolic feature, beyond the entrance on the
North side, with its full-length windows, its porticoes and generally for its formal clearness, in De La Sota it comes to create real passages through the new complex.
The project of De la Sota generates great interest and in my opinion gives great vigor to the building and also to the neighborhood, which could benefit by this extensive intervention. It’s also difficult to do an exhaustive comment in relation with the new building, because the works aren’t finished yet (and much time is expected to the conclusion), so, as I said at the beginning, my critique is limited on what is already realized and on the designs of the architect.
It should be said that the plan was approved away back in 1994, it suffered many changes and would
continue to suffer without Alejandro De La Sota’s supervision, due to his death in 1996.

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by Andrea Pagotto

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