Cartagena, Spain, has a long, rich history, beginning even before it became an important western Mediterranean port during the Roman Empire. With a natural harbor, it served as a naval base for centuries, its ramparts dating back to the eighteenth-century reign of Charles III. Now the city is reinventing itself as a cultural tourism destination—as shown by the construction of a museum by José Rafael Moneo, that celebrates the city's ancient Roman amphitheater and more recently by the opening of the exuberant new El B auditorium and congress hall, designed by the Madrid-based firm selgascano.
Running along the Paseo Alfonso XII, a 3,300-foot-long dock overlooking the Mediterranean, the 690-foot-long building echoes the stacked shipping containers on the neighboring wharfs. Its innovative use of plastic responds to a tight budget yet gives the light, flat-looking cladding over a steel-frame and poured-in-place concrete structure a surprising luminosity. The effect is soft and shimmering, like movement captured by a photograph taken with a long exposure. The roofline, interrupted by vertical cuts that introduce daylight into the interior, adds drama to the building's silhouette. Syncopated variations in color, light, and reflection make the segmented structure distinctive but still blend in with its watery surroundings and the historic city walls behind it.