Joint Research Center

Sevilla, ES

Joint Research Center
Comisión Europea
Sevilla, ES
Kengo Kuma AA + NGNP
Concurso. 2022
12.000 m2
>20.000.000 € PEM
Kengo Kuma AA

Kengo Kuma & Associates (lead designer) + NGNP arquitectos (local partner)

The urban area in which the new JRC building is inserted has its own peculiarities within the city of Seville. An old island, previously only occupied by the Cartuja Monastery, converted into a ceramics factory and, later, the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art and the Andalusian Institute for Historical Heritage, which was developed in the early 1990s to house the Universal Exposition of 1992, an event that greatly changed the urban appearance not only of this area, but of a large part of the city.

The result of this great urban transformation was a piece of the city with particular architecture, urban planning and infrastructure. The «pavilion architecture type» has generated an unfriendly urbanism, not too open to the citizen, turning its spaces into mere spaces for rapid transit and not for stay.

In recent years, precisely in this border area of La Cartuja, the space has been opened up to the citizen, with the so-called «Torre Pelli», its shopping centre, the Caixaforum and the Magallanes Park.

The plot is flanked by the Navigation Pavilion to the east, the Expo Building to the west, both buildings protected and cataloged by the PGOU, the commercial complex of Torre Pelli and Caixaforum to the south, and by the Old Monastery of La Cartuja de Santa María de las Cuevas to the north (registered as an Asset of Cultural Interest in the General Catalog of Andalusian Historical Heritage with the legal type of Monument. This particular location requires a sensitive intervention and subtle, that respects its surroundings on every flank.

Our proposal is located on a plot that, due to its position, tries to sew all these conditioning factors in a coherent way. The new JRC does not clog any of the limits in all its dimensions, freeing plot spaces, naturally causing the visual continuity of public spaces. It frees up a wide space to the east and southeast, which is projected in continuity with the large public space of the shopping center and the Caixaforum, connecting with Camino de los Descubrimientos Avenue. This is the large access space to the building, which acquires a more human scale by depressing its access level. The transit from the public highway to the interior occurs through a wide “in between” space, which alternates light and shadow, making use of hanging and climbing vegetation, generating a pleasant microclimate. This has been widely used in many areas of La Cartuja since Expo’92, with the implementation of the well-known micro-climatic pergolas, which largely remain in the area, and which have also been reused in other parts of the city, as in the access square to the Santa Justa train station. This system is still a contemporary rereading of a very useful traditional element to combat the harshness of the climate, as seen in old areas of the CAAC or in many areas of the Reales Alcázares de Sevilla. Blurring the very boundary of the building helps to understand its permeability. Exterior and interior are virtually blended.

The proposed volume is implanted by drawing a clear diagonal on the plot, which virtually continues certain lines of the complex built to the south (Torre Pelli and Caixaforum). Therefore, it establishes built continuity and continuity of the free spaces, spaces for citizens, leading them in turn to the main entrance, conceived as the end point of a pleasant tour of this new “in between” space. Also, the quality of this space, landscaped, protected from inclement weather, makes it stand as the common thread of a great green axis, with the relevant refurbishment work, which leads from the Magallanes Park to the Alamillo Park, passing through the public space of Torre Pellli and Caixaforum, the new JRC, the American Garden, the Guadalquivir Gardens, etc.

In the northwest corner, another open space is proposed, with a different character, more leafy, that connects the street level with the underground parking, making it a lighted, ventilated and habitable space in a certain way, in anticipation of a possible future reconfiguration.

Due to the importance of strengthening the continuity and permeability, both visual and physical, the proposal for the exterior areas of the new JRC seeks to generate within these limits multiple landscape experiences that invite the pedestrian to discover these new spaces contemplation and rest.

The proposal plays with a balanced contrast that produces 3 new different ways of experiencing the public space and its natural landscape that not only offers a significant increase in thermal comfort and habitability, but also invites pedestrians and users of the new building to discover its rich diversity of moments.

On the façade that opens onto the CaixaForum, a new ¨Andalusian garden¨ is proposed inspired by the characteristic local landscape. A single alignment of large trees (Tipuana and Jacaranda), linked to the sidewalks, generates a first green threshold of the garden, providing a soft shading to the sidewalks and marking the access to the interior of the lot. Once on the interior of the new garden area, a subtle dispositions in small groups of orange trees are planted, marking multiple calm and relaxing micro-spaces and seating areas, which reinforces a more human and intimate scale. These spaces are surrounded by geometrical planting areas where a selection of shrubs and herbaceous green grow into a double height, varying between 60 cm up to 1 meter, which allows a complete immersion in this new landscape that instigates the sensory and contemplative experience of the user without losing a panoramic reading of the place.

Seeking to promote a subtle transition towards the interior of the building, as the first element that unites architecture with vegetation, is the ¨forest of green pergolas¨, which interlocks their wooden structure with climbing and hanging vegetation, generating a large green canopy that, due to its playful double height and see-through vegetation roof, allows an interesting effect of light and shadow and provides a feeling of generosity and comfort strongly linked to the interior areas of the building. Sheltered by this permeable green roof, are larger flexible open spaces for big scale uses.

As a complementary contrast, on the northwest corner facing the existing JRC-Seville building and C. Francisco Montesinos, a higher density green pole is proposed, a ¨urban micro-forest¨ that aims to complete the missing piece of ecological connection on a macro scale, reinforcing its biodiversity and ecosystemic services to the surroundings. The selection of species here plays a significant role with the aim of generating a forest that develops at two complementary time frames. On a first temporal cycle, we propose the plantation in high density of Populus Alba (trios and single), a deciduous fast growing tree that quickly provides shade in warmer months and, due to its extreme resistance and adaptability to humid soils, requires very low maintenance. Simultaneously, we propose in addition to Populus Alba, the plantation of single Quercus Ilex trees, an evergreen slow-growing autochthonous species that in time, will substitute the fast-growing trees, thus increasing the new JRC landscape´s resilience and diversity.

With the objective of connecting all these landscape moments and reinforce the public character of the new JRC, we propose an efficient network of multiple generous paths, accessible and legible from any point of view from the surrounding sidewalks, thus increasing the permeability and connectivity with the adjacent public areas and facilities, generating a subtle, natural transition between open spaces and the interior of the new JRC building.

The building itself is born as a modular system, whose genetics allow infinite reconfigurations and growth. This same reticular system defines both closed and open architecture, as well as the unbuilt. Faced with a «pavilion architecture type», closed and self-absorbed, we propose a system that colonizes the plot, which juxtaposes built areas with free areas, closed areas with terraces. Large horizontal platforms are terraced, generating shade and protection on the glass facades, optimizing the interior lighting of all work spaces. The terraces are used by the JRC’s own users and, in some cases, are public terraces. These exterior spaces are an extension of the interior space, existing paths not only horizontal, but also vertical through exterior stairs. Given the climate, this entire system of exterior circulations implements the interiors. At their ends, these platforms are dematerialized, housing a system of planters with hanging native plants, which depending on the orientations will be deciduous or not, will flourish or not and will aromatize or not. The office spaces, therefore, are surrounded by landscape, both existing and newly created. The idea of «living building» moves from the very need for constant change of its internal reorganization to the urban image. The configuration of the building dematerializes the limits of its facades.

The modular system that gives shape to the building allows for potential additional growths on the NW and SE corners of 7,800m2 and 4,600m2 respectively, while keeping the diagonal connection, axis of the current proposal.

The progressive staggering of the building from south to north, generated by the terraces, responds directly and clearly to the urban environment. In this way, in the southern area, the building has the lowest possible height, even depressing the access level. This gesture manages to make the square area more domestic, in continuity with the free space of the opposite plot, in which the low building of the Pelli Tower reaches the ground, and even the Caixaforum is located underground. Diagonally from south to north, the building increases its scale to take advantage of the desired views of the river and the city to the east over the Pabellón de la Navegación, the Aljarafe cornice to the west and of course the landscape to the south (Triana and Los Remedios) and to the north (Cartuja and Alamillo).

The internal reading of the building is extremely clear and simple. It is organized on the basis of a diagonal sequence of rectangular patios around which two concentric rings are arranged, one of small differentiated spaces, and another exterior of continuous diaphanous space. The building is terraced following the south to north diagonal. All these rings are, in general, dedicated to the “workspace” program. The north ring brings together the rest of the program, differing floor by floor: welcome area, meeting hub, social infrastructure, catering and rooftop cafe, and kitchen.

The guiding modular grid allows for a wide variety of ways of working, covering a wide range of situations, from collaborative to individual work. The building has been conceived with a 8.2×8.2 grid optimized to match the dimensions of standard office furniture thus allowing maximum flexibility in the use and configuration of the spaces. Ranging from the maximum density of desks (42 standard work posts per grid) to spacious open plan configurations. Not only the dimensional modules, but also the constructive configuration (“rasillones” technical floor), allow infinite configurations.

The materiality of the building is clear and simple. It meets both the highest criteria of sustainability and reversibility, as well as its durability and maintenance. In this sense, the wooden structure becomes visible and patent, shaping the friendly aesthetics of the building. Protected glass walls, together with the wide eaves with plant implementation, ensure optimal interior lighting, while improving the user experience, dissolving the physical limit. The horizontal wooden structure is complemented by a technical ceramic forging system. In this aspect, the use of ceramics, whose production is so closely linked to this area of the city, is taken up again. A traditional material, highly efficient both in its use and in its ecological footprint. Its placement will resemble its traditional form of use on ceilings, between pairs of wood.

The building, in short, constitutes a declaration of intent of the principles of contemporary architecture and the values of the new European Bauhaus. Sustainability, reversibility, local development, transparency.