A new landmark helps put Seville on the architectural map.

By Raul Barreneche
July 13, 2011
Credit: Fernando Alda

Bilbao and Valencia may have put Spain on the contemporary architecture map, but now Seville, distinguished by its magnificent cathedral and the Giralda bell tower, is not far behind. Thanks to a striking architectural landmark, the Metropol Parasol, travelers and Sevillanos alike are flocking to the Plaza de la Encarnación, in the city’s medieval center. Six giant sculptural sunshades soar 90 feet above the plaza and resemble, depending on whom you ask, a cluster of giant mushrooms, roiling clouds, or gargantuan waffle chips. The Parasol’s designer, Berlin-based architect Jürgen Mayer H., was inspired by the neighborhood’s stately trees and the soaring vaults of the cathedral.

The high-tech-meets-Gothic canopy, a gridded web of interlocking timber blades coated in rainproof polyurethane, provides shade from the blazing Andalusian sun, filling the public space with shadows in constantly changing patterns. It also houses a lively market where you can shop for the city’s best jamón ibérico, an elevated space for open-air concerts and flamenco festivals, and, by year’s end, cafés and tapas bars. An elevator ride up through the trunks of the treelike parasols takes you to observation decks with 360-degree views of the city.

Below, glass bridges let you peer down on the excavated foundations of a first-century Roman enclave (including well-preserved mosaic floors) and the remains of a 13th-century Moorish house. As Mayer H. says of his creation, “It’s about the past, the present, and the future.”