Plans to build a new entry and visitor center for the Alhambra, the fortified palace in Granada, Spain, featuring a competition-winning design by Álvaro Siza and local architect Juan Domingo Santos will be completely revised after receiving a negative report from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an organization dedicated to protecting World Heritage sites and an official consultant for UNESCO.
While praising the "high quality" of the Siza/Domingo Santos proposal, the report slams the addition as overscaled. The site falls within the "buffer zone" of protected landscape that surrounds the Alhambra, which was established in its original inscription on the World Heritage list in 1984. The report concludes that the proposal, with a built area of over 125,000 square feet, is "too invasive" and is "likely to impact negatively on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property."
Siza and Domingo Santos won a competition in 2011 for the project, and presented their final design in January 2015. Known as the Atrium, it is based on a program developed by the administrators of the Alhambra, which is governed by the regional government of Andalucía and other public institutions. The project would replace existing entry facilities and address the growing needs of 2.5 million visitors each year.
The two architects planned to bank their new building into the slope and cover it with a series of stepped gardens evoking the traditional terraced fields around the Alhambra.
However, the scale of the proposal provoked strong public opposition, organized under the citizen's platform SOS Alhambra. Speaking for SOS, local architect Luis López Silgo credits the platform for first alerting ICOMOS to the plans. Domingo Santos confirms that the public outcry compelled the project's administrators to cooperate with a full ICOMOS review.
The ICOMOS report recognizes the need for the project. But it calls for "a substantial decrease" in built volume and suggests that the amount of commercial space should be reduced, administrative offices should be located off-site, and existing buildings should be better used.
In response, the Alhambra's Board of Directors announced that it will "completely reconsider" the proposal. The review process will incorporate ICOMOS experts, and Siza and Domingo Santos have been asked to remain as designers of the revised project.
The Alhambra has also promised to reach a consensus with SOS Alhambra. However, Luis López told RECORD that the platform remains opposed to any intervention in the buffer zone, which it considers off-limits to new construction, in a strict interpretation of the World Heritage inscription.