Essay: Metropol Parasol

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  • Subject area(s): Architecture essays
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In the fall of 2005 a global competition with the theme ‘sustainable construction’ was launched by the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction (further written as Holcim Foundation). The selected building ‘Metropol Parasol’ designed by Jürgen Mayer H., architect from Berlin, and Carlos Merino, engineer from Madrid won the third price in 2005.

According to the comments of the Holcim Awards 2005 jury for Europe (Holcim Foundation, 2005),

‘Metropol parasol deserves special merit for creating a work that promises to have beneficial and long-term impact on reactivating collective recognition of the city and its culture’.


In the middle of the 19th century, plaza de la Encarnación offered a central market within the walls of a demolished medieval monastery. This market was demolished in 1973. For the last past years, the plaza was used as a parking lot. The surrounding areas of Plaza de la encarnación failed to keep pace with Seville’s growth (Millard, 2008). When an underground car park was planned and excavations began, a Roman archaeological site was uncovered, bringing construction to an end (Mayer, 2012). The unexpectedly uncovered Roman ruins, resulted in a vision of the potential for an archaeological museum, a restored and enclosed market, a complex of bars and restaurants, and a new magnet district for visitors (Millard, 2008).

In 2004 the Sevilla Urban Planning Agency (part of Ayuntamiento de Sevilla) held an international competition, in order to create an idea on how to redesign and revitalize the square and to activate the surrounding areas. Besides the programme, which included a market, an archaeological museum and a public square and integrate the site with everyday commerce (Millard, 2008), it was also determined that the project had to become an architectural landmark with iconic impact to create a tourist attraction (Bordas, 2011).

This competition was won by Jürgen Mayer H. with the project Metropol Parasol. Jürgen Mayer H. founded J. MAYER H. in 1996 in Berlin. Stuttgart University, The Cooper Union and Princeton University are the universities Jürgen Mayer H. studied architecture. He also taught at multiple universities.

The jury of the competition describes;

‘This building is a genuine monument that stresses the importance of the marketplace in the city. It is an aesthetically pleasing and sustainable response to the frequently criticized loss of public space’ (Holcim Foundation, 2005).

Measuring 150 by 70 meter, and a height of proximally 28 meters Metropol Parasol is one of the largest timber structures ever created (Millard, 2008). Metropol Parasol is divided in four layers (figure 01), the basement is the archaeological site, the market on street level, the elevated plaza and on the top an ‘skywalk’ (Mayer, 2005 p.2). providing the visitors (Mayer, 2011) with a feeling they are on a “cloud” (figure 01 & 02). For the design of the parasol Mayer is referring to some big trees on a neighbouring plaza and to the Seville Cathedral, which accordingly to Mayer in an interview with Inhabitat (2011) ‘has this beautiful, undulating stone roof’.

‘Metropol Parasol is an urban, democratic, open cathedral that is held together by the people and the life in the centre of the city’ (Mayer, 2011)

Figure 01 All the layers combined (Mayer, Jürgen H., 2005)

Figure 02 Perceived it to be mushrooms or clouds (Mayer, Jürgen H., 2005)


4.4.5 Analysis

The competition of the Holcim awards focuses on five “target issues” (see introduction). The relevance of the target issues (five p’s) that are addressed described by Mayer (2005 pp.4 – 16) are a starting point of this analysis. The target issue contextual response and aesthetic impact, might be the most interesting for this research.

According to the Holcim Foundation (2005);

‘the building form/design is responding in a sustainable way to the climate of southern Spain by shading the square. The square also becomes an attractive center that offers space for all forms of social activity – it could even develop into a tourist attraction with global pull’.

This research focuses on the key aspect of the visual unique elements of enactments of sustainability, through which they are brought into perception? The unique visual elements are the building form, the way the building is shading the square and the contribution the building provides by the redevelopment of the square into a space for all forms of social activity.

The building also provides features in the category of ecological quality and energy saving (Technology figure 03). One of these elements is the the way the building is processing the surface water. To reduce the impact of the project on the sewage infrastructure, the surfaces on the plaza are made of permeable finishes to allow a direct drainage of the locally intense rainfall. The integration of solar-thermal and solar electric panels to produce hot water for the multiple functions and photovoltaic power generation that powers the fountains and public lightning (Mayer, 2005 p.11). These elements are not considered as unique visible key elements of the building and thereby will not be further elaborated.

Figure 03 Technological solutions and improving microclimate of the square (Mayer, Jürgen H., 2005)


Building Form

The design of Metropol Parasol is drawing on various references (see 4.4.4), resulting in evoking multiple interpretations. Some people may perceive it as a group of trees, thereby referring to an actual group of trees and connect them to their shading capacities (Søberg, 2013). The building form could also be perceived as mushrooms, a giant cloud (figure 02), likened to a honeycomb or a coral reef. These different perception or interpretations give the form a connection to people that is lacking for example in mechanistic, oversized structures (Webb, 2011 p.62). An other reference for the building form is the Gothic architecture of Seville, in particular the Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede and its tall, tree-like columns (Søberg, 2013). All of these references could be described as an inspiration by local vegetation and architecture, resulting in appreciation and acceptance of the building according to J. Mayer (2005 p.16). The building form is also influenced by realising the “right height” (figure 04) for the structure. This means, the building height is enough to provide views over the city and avoid an over towering effect (Mayer, 2005 p.16). At the same time the structure was deliberately not made solid but left partial open, to let some filtered light and shadow to the plaza and according to Mayer (2005 p.11), combined with the height ‘avoid an over towering effect’.

Figure 04 Providing views and avoiding an over towering effect. (Mayer, Jürgen H., 2005)


In the view of project leader Andre Santer (James, 2011), ‘Metropol Parasol is a structure so influenced by its location that it could work in no other city’. After the Roman ruins were discovered, the integration of these ruins in the design, became a fundamental requirement. The columns supporting the canopy could only be realised on certain places (figure 05) by leaving the archaeological remains intact.

Figure 05 Placing the columns (Mayer, Jürgen H., 2005)



The building is providing the much needed shading (James, 2011). Seville, in the south of Spain is known for its warm climate with hot summers, when the temperature frequently exceeds 40°C (Díaz, 2002), proves that the shading is much needed.

Research of Tauw, an international engineering firm, shows where extreme heat can occur in a city, on very hot days and shows the effect of taken measures (Cluck, 2013). This study is helping cities better understand the phenomenon of heat stress with concrete and efficient measures that reduces the risks. On the ‘real hot spots’ it can be achieved by realising shading and cooling, by for example using “large umbrellas”, water fountains or misting. The second example of water fountains, for reducing the risks on heat stress, is also an other visible element of Metropol Parasol. These are the distributed water features on the plaza providing a source of ‘free’ cooling by evaporation (Mayer, 2005 p.11).

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