Essay: Metropol Parasol

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  • Metropol Parasol
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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).

The previous chapter ‘building form’ describes the possibility, people may perceive the form as a group of trees and imaginably connect them to the shading capacities of actual trees. Sarah Williams Goldhagen (2012) refers this interpretation, to the visual metaphor of a tree as shelter and describes that most people live around and gather underneath them. Nearly everyone at some point uses a tree to escape the sun.

The building provides shading from the intense sun; this applies both to the public plaza level and the roof of the market. This does the building by realising a honeycomb structures which is partially left open en thereby let some filtered light on to the plaza. The way the design of the building is shading the square is similar to many examples of passive shading. Passive shading uses elements to block the sun for entering the building to prevent further heating. This same method is used by Mayer to shade the square. Instead of using this kind of passive shading for just a building, Mayer applies it to nearly the complete square. According to Mayer (2005 p.11), shading the plaza leads to an extended usability and increase in attractiveness of the public space, which thereby is connected with the an other (visible) key element of creating space for social activity. The shading also reduces the cooling loads of the air-conditioning equipment for the market. Furthermore, the openings allow warm air generated on the plaza to escape (figure 06).


Space for social activity

A study by Chan, E. and Lee G.K.L. (Chan, 2007) reviews the sustainable urban design concept and identifies critical factors for enhancing social sustainability of urban renewal projects. Some of these critical factors are perceived. For example, Metropol parasol could be described as compatible with its neighbourhood by maintaining the existing streets and referencing to local characteristics. In addition, the uniqueness of an area can be highlighted through heritage preservation (Chan, 2007 p.252), as Metropol Parasol shows with the archaeology site. According to Chan this is a critical factor that is creating a harmonious living environment.

Mayer (James, 2011) refers the building to a ‘cathedral without walls. It is a place that is democratic, open all hours and actively engages its inhabitants’. Availability of Open Spaces is another critical factor described by Chan (2007), which is perceived. Open spaces provide buffer zones in urban areas for social gathering and interaction. Open spaces with greenery in particular are recognized as major contributors to human health and social wellbeing because they effectively improve physical health of the residents and reduce human stress (Chan, 2007 p.253). This “open space” combined with the shading of the square results in a space for all sorts of social activities.


In terms of material use, there is a disadvantage because of the quantity of wooden elements. Some of the references refers to proximally 3400 individual wooden elements joined or glued together. Mayer describes the wooden elements as a “natural material” and claims only certificated wooden elements are being used. This argument may not be enough to explain the, perhaps unnecessary, excessive use of materials to realise the shading of the square by designing this canopy. If the building form is possibly perceived as a mushrooms, why not the association with large umbrellas or parasol like the name suggest? The undulating structure is entirely made of the connection between single wooden elements, instead of a few closed overhanging elements together, forming a canopy. By realising this method, it is also possible to provide the square of shading. In comparison to the actual built method this should have resulted in a more compact and use of lesser materials to realise the same unique element. Assuming the shading of the square in the way this building does is the most important unique visible element. The building would certainly be perceived completely different by the people, and perhaps not interpreted as an “icon”.


It was difficult to determine the key elements of Metropol Parsol. The explanation from the Holcim Foundation, describing the building is responding in a sustainable way to the climate by shading the square and realising an attractive center that offers space for all forms of social activity, was the starting point to further develop and research these specific key elements. At first sight the building appears to be a “organic shape” hovering above the square, supported by six large columns. The undulating form, offers multiple interpretations by perceiving the building. The shape is influenced by its location because the columns supporting the canopy could only be realised on certain places, making the building unique and interact with its surroundings and more importantly preserve the archaeological remains. The structure of the canopy, which could be described as an undulating “wire netting” (created by the single wooden elements) supported by six specifically placed columns provide an artificial sky. The height of the wooden elements in combination with the undulating shape, the complete structure forms, provides the square of the shading by insuring the direct sunlight is blocked. This form of shading the square could be considered as a form of passive shading. The way this building is shading the square, is the most unique visible and “actual experienced” element, assuming the shading will insure a lower temperature. The visible distributed water features, provide also a source for “free cooling”, which is not actual visible nevertheless it is possible this cooling could be experienced by the visitors. The water features are considered to be part of the technological features and therefor deliberately excluded as one of the unique architectural elements.

The space between all the single elements is consciously left open, allowing daylight on to the square and create an active “play of light and shadow” during the day. All of these unique elements perceived by the people are interrelated and connected with each other. The building form is directly connected with the shading of the square. The shape combined with the capacity to shade the square insures for example, the realization of a space for all sorts of social activities. Assuming the shape is setting boundaries, which could be perceived if the shape of the building is interpreted as roof of the square, resulting in assumingly a more attractive and pleasant space to visit. The result is an actively used square, making it more commercial and beneficial for the city which is the last unique visible enactment of sustainability, assuming the actively using of the square, by locals and tourists, is actual being perceived. In terms of experiencing this element, the background noises (for example, people talking) and visible number of visitors, insures the transformed square is being perceived as actively used, and unconsciously recognising it as commercial beneficial for the city.

All the unique elements contribute to recognising the definition “sustainability” as a very broad discipline. Metropol Parasol specifically shows “sustainability” has not only to do with reducing carbon emission and developing future technologies to insure this. This building provides people a broader perspective for the definition of “sustainability”, which connects the social environment in relation to public space.



Bordas B.D. (2011) Metropol Parasol, Sevilla (Spain). Publicspace [Online] accessed 14 November 2015 < >

Chan E., Lee G.K.L. 27 February 2007 Critical factors for improving social sustainability of urban renewal projects [pdf] January 2008, Volume 85, Issue 2, pp 243-256. Social Indicators Research Available at: < >

Designbuild-network, Project metropol Parasol Seville, Spain [Online] Accessed 16 October 2015 < >

Díaz J., García R., Velázquez de Castro F., Hernández E., López C., Otero A., (August 2002). Effects of extremely hot days on people older than 65 years in Seville (Spain) from 1986 to 1997. International Journal of Biometeorology, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 145-149

Holcim Foundation, (September 16, 2005) Prizes for sustainable construction projects in Europe, (September 16, 2005). [Online] Accessed 14 October 2015, < >

Inhabitat Interviews Metropol Parasol Architect Jürgen Mayer H. – New York City 2011, Video, Inhabitat, video by Wing, viewed 21 October 2015,< >

James, R. (September 2011) Shady character: Seville’s Metropol Parasol. Designbuild-network [Online] Accessed 10 November 2015 < >

Jmayerh, Profile [Online] Accessed 10 November 2015 < >

Kluck, J. (June, 2013) Hittestress-kaart toont hotspots in steden. Tauw [online] Accessed 11 November 2015 < >

Mayer, Jürgen H. Metropol parasol shades sunny Seville (2012) Solarispedia [Online] Accessed 16 October 2015 < >

Mayer, Jürgen H., 2005. Holcim Awards 2005 Europe. [pdf] Holcim Foundation. Available at: < e28ca089b3ce/HolcimAwards05_EUR_bronze.pdf > [Accessed 14 October 2015].

Mayer, Jürgen H., 2005. Metropol Parasol Redevelopment of “Plaza de la Encarminacion” in Sevilla, [pdf] Holcim Foundation. Available at: < > [Accessed 14 October 2015].

Mayer, Jürgen H., 2005. Project booklet [pdf] available at: > [Accessed 15 October 2015].

Mayer, Jürgen H., 2005. Regional project poster 2005. [pdf] Holcim Foundation. Available at: < > [Accessed 14 October 2015].

Mayer, Jürgen H., September 2012. Metropol Parasol, Seville [pdf] Volume 82, Issue 5, Pages: 70–73, Article first published online : 13 SEP 2012, onlinelibrary.wiley. Available at: < > [Accessed 15 October 2015].

Millard, B. (February 4, 2008) Metropol Parasol: Seville’s Enigmatic ‘Open Cathedral’ [Online] Accessed 10 November 2015 < >

Rosenfield K. (January 11, 2012) Seeing the Building for the Trees by Sarah Williams Goldhagen, ArchDaily [Online] Accessed 10 Nov 2015, < >

Søberg, M. (August 12, 2013) Metropol Parasol. Arcspace [Online] Accessed 15 October 2015 < >

Staff of Webecoist (May, 2011), Stylish, but Sustainable? Synthetic Super-Sized Wood Trees. webecoist.momtastic [Online] Accessed 19 October 2015 < >

Webb, M. (May 27, 2011). 228 Metropol Parasol. The architectural review, (1372), pp. 59 – 63.

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