Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wrapped in titanium

What is this? A selection of gorgeous candy wrappers in glossy foil? The photos very much look like that but they have nothing to do with sweets but everything to do with another product that is most delightful, even healthy if consumed in moderation. They are close-ups of metal sheets decorating Hotel Marqués de Riscal on the premises of their winery in the village of Elciego in Spain.

Before going into the visits we made to the bodegas during our recent trip to the Rioja wine region, I must introduce you to this amazing building designed by the Canadian maestro Frank Gehry. The limestone exterior is wrapped in titanium sheets in Riscal’s signature colours: red for the wine, gold for the net around the Riscal bottle and silver for the bottle top.






The winery of Herederos del Marqués de Riscal has a tradition of more than 150 years in the Álava province of the Basque Country. To celebrate this they decided to develop their 10-hectare (24-acre) premises into an area they call the City of Wine and set their mind on building a modernist luxury hotel there. It is not surprising they came to think of Frank Gehry, famous for his design of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the capital of the neighbouring Biscay province of the Basque Country. Perhaps thanks to the bottle of wine from his year of birth 1929 that accompanied the design request, we can now marvel this startling creation in the middle of Álava’s rural setting.


Frank Gehry is world-renowned for his extraordinary architecture many praise for its boldness but others consider too striking and impractical. I saw his Dancing House in Prague in the late 1990s and found it rather out-of-place among the surrounding neoclassical buildings. Having seen more modernism by now, I might think differently if I saw it again, who knows. At least the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles seems both very fascinating and functional judged from the film I saw about the project on TV a few years ago.

Hotel Marqués de Riscal was completed in 2006 after years of construction and an estimated cost of €70M. For the big and beautiful the wine business appears to involve much more than just peanuts. There are 43 luxurious rooms and a spa offering, among others, (external) vinotherapy plus a restaurant that gained a Michelin star in 2011.

I guess the suites are located in the ‘cubes’ in the main building and the rest of the rooms and the spa are in the more regular-looking annex connected with the main building by a covered bridge. We didn’t see the annex; the below photo (where the side view of the hotel resembles a fat-cheeked face framed with long curly hair) was taken standing on one of the squares inside the City of Wine and the buildings seen here belong to the winery.





We attended a guided tour of the Marqués de Riscal winery producing great Rioja Alavesa wines and were not able to have a closer look at the hotel. Then again, exploring the interior might have been too much for a first-timer. The exterior was impressive enough and attracted my lens like a magnet. You can see below how the hotel looks like viewed from the main road and from the medieval village of Elciego. Amazing, stunning, one-of-a-kind!






8 comments:

  1. I am stunned by the originality of this piece of contemporary architecture.
    And I admire the courage of those who commissioned the building to be placed in such a classical background.
    By the way, I like Gehry's work.

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    1. I totally agree with you. I ran into an article claiming that Gehry himself considers this work of his even greater than the Bilbao Guggenheim.

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  2. E' straordinariamente fantastico, molto ardito e bello per questo, un artista eclettico e straordinario
    Emi

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    1. Esattamente! Gehry certainly hasn't lost any of his creativity with age. On the contrary.

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  3. Replies
    1. Älä muuta sano. Somewhere on this continent, 'agriculture' seems to be quite profitable, at least for some.

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  4. Great post and photos. I was curious to see if it was as innovative inside as well - but I bet it was expensive to get a room key, so I only made it as far as the foyer.

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    1. The winery visit kept us busy running around through all the other Riscal facilities (a post to follow one of these days) so we didn't have any chance to step in. Maybe one day...

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