MAKING A VIRTUE OF NECESSITY - CAMÍ DE LES GUIXERES IN IGUALADA

Cami Guixeres Igualada Batlle Roig 1.jpg

CAMÍ DE LES GUIXERES IN IGUALADA

Client: Ajuntament de Igualada

Landscape Architects: Batlle i Roig Arquitectos

Collaborators: STATIC, Moix Serveis i Obres

Project Area: 5600m2 (800m length)

Project Date: 2018

HOW FINANCIAL CONSTRAINTS BECAME AN INCENTIVE TO SEARCH FOR INNOVATIVE AND CREATIVE DESIGN SOLUTIONS

The path leading up the hills in northern Igualada is slowly ascending.  From time to time, you can catch a glimpse of the Montserrat mountain range - a Catalan landmark - behind the buildings. The Camí de les Guixeres, a footpath along a former gypsum quarry, starts here on the outskirts of the city.  The path is part of the city's Green Ring that aims to connect the green belt around Igualada with a network of foot and bike paths. 

The small town of Igualada is located 60km northeast of Barcelona. In the architecture world it is mainly known for its new cemetery designed by the famous Catalan architects Enric Miralles and Carme Pinós. Now the city possesses another architectural jewel, the Camí de les Guixeres. The project, designed by Batlle i Roig Arquitectes, was named Landscape of the Year at the World Architecture Festival last November and has just won a LILA award in the Public Projects Category. 

The site before the start of construction. Photo: Courtesy of Batlle i Roig Arquitectes.

The site before the start of construction. Photo: Courtesy of Batlle i Roig Arquitectes.

Wounded Landscape

The surrounding landscape is marked by the years of gypsum mining and later use of the site as a municipal waste transfer station. Rainwater runoff and landslides caused further damage. Therefore, the regeneration of the landscape and biodiversity was one of the most important design criteria. A careful and sustainable use of rainwater has been implemented to generate a new dynamic that gradually improves the ecological condition of the site. Another critical aspect was to make the space accessible and connect it on an urban level. 

At first sight a simple footpath, it meanders around trees and grows wider and thinner, creating vantage points and spaces to rest and enjoy the views. An 800m linear balcony, as the architects’ describe it. At some points it changes direction abruptly, cutting into the landscape - a clear reference to the steep rock faces, the incisions and wounds the mining has left in the landscape. Still, the architects’ restrained approach is noticeable. The materials and colours blend harmoniously into the environment. At all times, the focus is on the surrounding landscape. The architects point out that a number of minimalistic and punctual design interventions are meant to highlight the peculiarities of the landscape and initiate a fundamental transformation of the place. 

A restrained material palette

The path is divided into three clearly defined areas. These three parallel stripes are designed to adapt to the topography, local conditions and other specific requirements. The central strip, about three meters wide, is a water-bound pathway made of granitic sand. The outer edge, a 1,2m wide concrete strip, forms the linear balcony and at the same time provides disabled access to the site. The sand colour shades of the two pavings vary only slightly. But where the trees cast their shadows on the path, you can catch a brief sparkle of the exposed aggregate in the concrete. The concrete contains a luminescent aggregate (about 0,5kg / m2), which stores solar energy during the day and emits it at night. Illumination of the path was not feasible due to a lack of power supply in the remote area. Therefore, the luminescent concrete pavement provided a solution to obtain a certain visibility after sunset. 

Key Section. Courtesy of Batlle i Roig Arquitectes.

Key Section. Courtesy of Batlle i Roig Arquitectes.

The third strip on the inside of the path is a natural drain, which serves to catch the rainwater runoff from the mountain. At the same time it acts as a buffer zone for smaller landslides. A series of smaller dams of site rock was built to filter the rainwater and redirect it into replanted areas. A meadow has been sown along a narrow strip next to the footpath. From there, the vegetation will spread further and regenerate the landscape.

The precast concrete module Modelo SB by Arumí is a prominent design element, and has been applied in various ways. The module was used to construct the outer edge of the pathway. The edge seems to float partially, sometimes rising and turning into a linear bench where the pathway extends to a more generous space. Additionally, it also serves as an overflow channel for rainwater runoff during heavy rainfall. 

The search for innovative and creative design solutions

The selection of the material palette was influenced by the architects’ restrained design approach, but also the limited budget available. Since the start of the financial crisis, the allocation of public funding for construction projects had been reduced drastically. For Batlle i Roig, the financial constraints became an incentive to search for innovative and creative design solutions, to make a virtue of necessity. They proposed the use of local building materials such as natural stone, new and innovative materials, the recycling of demolition waste and the creative use of conventional construction elements. 

We reach the end point of the path right at the top, where a small viewing platform extends over the mountainside as the Montserrat mountain range reappears. Taking a deep breath and enjoying the view up here, it is no surprise to see that Igualada’s citizens have embraced this rediscovered landscape. 

Interview with Batlle i Roig Arquitectes about innovation in design and material selection

What criteria did you choose for the selection of materials?

The selection of project materials was based on three main criteria: The reuse of site materials was one of the criteria. In this case, we used the scattered rocks we found in the area, which originated from small landslides, to build the new water retention walls. The second aspect was the recycling of material. The city council supplied us with recycled asphalt granulate from road demolition, which we used as a subbase for the paving. This resulted not only in significant cost savings, but also a reduction of the ecological footprint. And finally, we were looking for innovative solutions such as the use of new materials like the luminescent concrete. This allowed for a better response to the project requirements and use of the economic resources available.  

How do the materials reflect the design concept of this project and the philosophy of your studio in general?

The Igualada project combines in essence the design principles that guide all of our projects. Our work starts with the search and recognition of the values each place possesses. Even the most degraded site has natural, topographic, historical and other potential values that are unique to the place. Knowing how to detect these values and enhance them is key to find the specificity of each site and to develop the most appropriate and integrated approach. On the other hand, the economic crisis of recent years has taught us not to give up on our ambitions and to continue to think big, despite the obvious lack of resources. To make up for this deficit, it is fundamental to undertake a great effort to search for new and better construction techniques and to develop imaginative solutions. Each project requires a deep analysis of what is essential, and what is expendable.  We firmly believe that it is not paramount to intervene in the entire project area to achieve a radical change.

All in all, our work philosophy is to be both humble and ambitious, attentive to existing conditions, but prepared to take radical decisions, and always committed to the main objectives of public space: the improvement of connectivity, biodiversity and the environment.

The WAF jury has applauded the innovative use of materials. What do you consider innovative about your project?

For us innovation has two sides:  On the one hand, the research and development of new and better construction solutions, and on the other hand, ingenuity regarding the use of existing solutions to meet new needs and requirements. In this respect, luminescent concrete is a clear example of finding a new material to solve a specific issue: the provision of lighting in peri-urban areas without any infrastructure. We also used a prefabricated concrete module in the project. Technically, this module is a fairly undistinctive and low cost construction element. But the module has been applied in a unique way that frames the path and serves as a linear bench, while at the same time installed as overflow for the rainwater retention areas.  

What is the luminescent concrete made of?

We used ordinary concrete for the pavement.  A luminescent aggregate is added to the mix (app. 0.5kg/m2) and revealed through an exposed concrete finish. This aggregate stores energy throughout the day and then, once it gets dark, radiates it back to the environment without generating light pollution. It creates a subtle lighting effect that allows the use of the space after dawn. 

All photos © Sigrid Ehrmann unless otherwise stated

This article is an adapted version of my article published in German in Garten+Landschaft.