Valencia Congress Centre

As communications technology makes it easier to work in isolation, paradoxically the demand for new kinds of places for face-to-face discussion continues to grow. Conferences and conventions are now an international industry, and congress centres are important assets for cities keen to compete in a world market. Valencia’s Congress Centre is an example of this phenomenon. A leading European conference venue, it combines state-of-the-art facilities with an architectural celebration of this historic Mediterranean city.

The Congress Centre provides three auditoria, seating 250, 460 and 1,460 people respectively, with the smallest of these capable of being subdivided into two. In plan, the building forms a convex lens or ‘eye’, defined by two arcing facades of unequal length. The auditoria and the nine seminar rooms fan out from the tighter curve of the western edge, while the public areas - including the broad, linear foyer - run along the eastern facade. The Centre is oriented to respond to the climate and quality of light and shade, water and green spaces found in the city. The foyer looks out onto shady trees and gently curving asymmetrical pools. Fresh air is cooled as it passes over these pools and is drawn into the foyer, minimising the need for mechanical air conditioning. Similarly, reflected sunlight is balanced by shading from brise-soleil so that natural illumination in the foyer is even and finely veiled. Except in the auditoria, daylight is drawn deep into the plan, in some places entering gently, in others forming fine piercing rays.

Following principles rooted in the vernacular local architecture, the roof consists of two layers: an outer metal shield floats above a heavy concrete shell, encouraging a cooling flow of air in between, thus optimising the building’s passive thermal performance. The roof sweeps through 180 metres in a single line, surging forward at its peak to create a canopy above the entrance, which provides shelter from the sun. Completed to a tight budget, the Centre combines local skills, materials and construction techniques with the minimum of imported systems. In this sense, as well as in its environmental stance, it is truly a Valencian building – rooted in tradition but forward looking.

The building does much to justify Foster’s belief that the main task of the architect is to improve public space in cities. In a redevelopment desert on the edge of the old city, it is intended to be a gateway and sign of urban regeneration to citizens and visitors alike.

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