22 CITY HALLS: PHOTO ESSAYS ON SIENA, LOUISVILLE, CINCINNATI & MORE RECENT EXAMPLES

 

The introduction to a recent collection of essays entitled City Halls and Civic Materialism: Towards a Global History of Urban Public Space (Swati Chattopadhyay and Jeremy White, editors, Routledge, London, 2014) argues that:

if the town hall has historically been connected with the articulation of bourgeois civil society, then the town hall as a global spatial type -- architectural space, urban monument, and space of governance -- holds a mirror to the promise and limits of civil society.

Lexington Municipal Building, Barr and Walnut Streets, Frankel & Curtis, Architects, 1921

Presented below are photo essays on 22 City Halls which I trust you will find of interest.

The idea of producing something on the subject was stimulated by the alarming proposal that new municipal administration facilities for the city of Lexington should be leased from Bridgeton Holdings in the office space they anticipate building in Dudley's Dig, which seems unlikely to differ in any fundamental way from Dudley’s last public representation of it: this ten storey glazed box crammed into the corner of Main and Limestone and masquerading as the radiator grill of a ‘58 Ford Edsel.

Bridgeton Holdings will no doubt be amenable to adding a floor or two to accommodate the City’s needs, then for ‘EDSEL’ read ‘LFUCG’ in descending storey-high illuminated letters and they’re almost done. All they’ll lack then is a place for a flagpole.

The material that follows is offered with the purpose of rejecting such a dreary, minimalist outcome. It has been cobbled together over the the late Fall while recovering from a spinal injury, providing me with some diversion and you, I hope, with some perceptions of the city hall as a richly varied building type, something more, potentially very much more, than simply office space with a public meeting room and a flagpole, something entailing the recognition of human factors and formal and tectonic values that seem unlikely to be given much weight in the forthcoming report and recommendations of a real estate consultant.

The examples I cite are set out chronologically, beginning with the civic miracle of Siena’s venerable city hall of 1297, followed by Lexington’s two neighboring and comparable city halls, Louisville, Kentucky (1873) and Cincinnati, Ohio, (1893), then roaming around from the 1930s to the present day and ending close to home again with Covington, Kentucky (2015). The collection is not so much systematic as as opportunistic. It includes both selected examples and others simply stumbled upon. For all that, I believe it’s not too skewed a reflection of the city hall buildings erected in recent times. And though I’ve adhered to the a chronological arrangement in the interest of variety, the examples presented range from the exceptionally fine to the deplorable and may readily be broken down into the following five categories which elaborate upon those presented on the Home Page:

  • Uniquely conceived iconic city halls made by contemplative scholar architects who are masters of their craft
    • Giuseppe Terragni’s modest Casa del Fascio in Como, Italy (1936)
    • Alvar Aalto’s even smaller Säynätsalo, Finland (1952)
    • Rafael Moneo’s Logroño (1973-81) and Murcia, Spain (1991)
    • Richard Meier’s two-city-block leviathan in San Jose, California (2005)
  • Well conceived and executed city halls made by contemplative scholar architects highly advanced in their craft
    • Jones and Kirkland’s Mississauga, Ontario, Canada (1982)
    • Bruce Kuwabara (Senior partner in KPMB, Architects) Kitchener, Ontario, Canada (1989-93)
    • Studio Granda’s Reykjavik, Iceland (1992)
    • The anonymous Tromsø, Norway (2004)
    • The late Henning Larsen’s Kiruna, Sweden, a commission awarded in 2013 and awaiting construction
  • Conventionally lumpen ill-conceived city halls, pretentious objects made by egocentric but naive architects with little talent or scholarship and no understanding of the discipline
    • Taft Architects’ "decorated shed" at Corpus Christi, Texas (1988)
    • Antoine Predock’s extravagant "armadillos" at Austin, Texas (1998)
  • Near criminally lumpen high-tech city halls, wrapped up in fashionable "archispeak" by architects with an arrogant disregard for the discipline
    • Norman Foster’s London, England (2002) - (also listed under Developer city halls)
    • Yoo Kerl’s Seoul, South Korea (2012)
    • Effekt’s -- that’s right, Effekt’s -- Bodø, Norway (2013)
    • Todaro’s Bilbao, Spain (2013)
  • Developer city halls, made by real estate speculators to generate rent, each of which is a chilling cautionary tale
    • Norman Foster’s London, England (2002) - (also listed under Criminally Lumpen city halls)
    • Anchorage, Alaska (2009)
    • Covington, Kentucky (2015)

I make no apology for these categories. They are derived from sixty years of thinking as an architect who has been privileged to be a Londoner for thirty pre-Thatcher years, who has lived and worked on this side of the Atlantic in such diverse cities as St. Louis, Princeton, New York and Toronto, and has been a resident of Lexington, cumulatively speaking, for over three decades. I believe, moreover, that that any concerned citizen would come to adopt the same or similar categories.

To conceive and make a building that holds ‘a mirror to the promise of a civil society’ is to engage in a work of architecture, an undertaking to test the capabilities of the most able architects, demanding a body of knowledge and culture and a mode of thought that, as New York’s indefatigable Robert Mose has so convincingly demonstrated, has been quite outside the ken of developers since the death of Haussmann in Paris in 1891.

Jean-francois Raffaelli, Place de l’Hotel de Ville, Paris, 1890

Hence, the question presently being asked of Jones Lang LaSalle, namely the relative cost effectiveness of owning municipal office space or leasing it from a developer, is secondary to the central issue. While the administrative areas of city halls form the largest component of their interior space needs, they are by no means the sole or arguably the most important need. Entrusting the definition, placement and shaping of these needs to the discretion of a developer, any developer, including the Dudley wannabes, would be to settle for ‘the limits’ of a civil society and a grave abdication of responsibility.

Turning any building program into architecture calls for two conditions: first, a client intent on making something of long-term value and participating in the process with critical but generous intelligence; and architects in command of their craft with formal understandings and powers of constructive invention, equipped with a probative interest in the human purposes of the program, with a concern for the site and its surroundings, and are then afforded the time and circumstances in which to do their job properly.

SIENA, ITALY,1297: THE QUINTESSENTIAL CITY HALL

City halls have a pretty long history as a building type, and surely the quintessential city hall is Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico, begun in 1297 for the republican government of the city’s Podesta and Council of Nine, this at a time when the idea of operating one’s city as a republic required not merely the formidable natural defenses of a hill town but also some sustained conviction and fortitude. Within its walls, the splendid Council Chamber bears Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s allegorical frescoes on Good and Bad Government, while outside the walls the building is the focal point of the majestically simple shallow half saucer of the Piazza del Campo, the brick-paved open air living room of the city which is also the venue for Siena’s famous Palio horse races, which have been run in July and August each year since medieval times.

The Palazzo Pubblico and the Piazza del Campo seen from the northwest, the morning shadow of the palazzo’s Torre del Mangia sweeping like the gnomon of a sundial across the gores of brick paving sloping down toward the entry loggia at its base.

The Palazzo infusing the Campo with reflected light in the evening.

The Sala dei Nove (Hall of Nine or Council Room).

Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s allegorical frescoes on Good and Bad Government.


Siena receives 165,000 foreign tourists each year but, curiously, in this Campo all of these people are glad to be its citizens.

Dining out at the Bar il Palio, one of a string of such establishments on the upper perimeter of the Campo, which was a mixed use development centuries before the planners and zoners were obliged to to reinvent it.


The Palio seen rounding the southeastern corner of the Piazza del Campo into the Palazzo Pubblico straight. The word, ‘campo’ carries the meanings of both ‘field’ and ‘course’, here denoting a centuries old prototype for Newmarket, Deauville and Keeneland. Why, I wonder, is not Siena a Lexington Sister City?

The Palazzo’s massing -- a subtle negotiation between symmetry and asymmetry -- has been echoed in many subsequent city halls, including those of neighboring Louisville and Cincinnati

LEXINGTON’S NEIGHBORS: LOUISVILLE, 1873 and 1909 & CINCINNATI, 1893

The City Hall, designed when the population was about 130,000 by John Andrewartha and completed in 1873 has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.

Its handsome, carefully proportioned Beaux Arts facade displays ornaments that are now touching for their assertion of the city’s robust pioneering spirit, laying claim to its place in a nation now being tamed, blasted through and made habitable from the fir forests of the east to the palm groves of the west, and for their affirmation of Louisville’s agrarian roots.

So this tympanum may be a far cry from the heroic Parthenon in Athens but one can almost hear the dynamite blast and the locomotive whistle toot.

And these farm animal window ornaments have a medieval panache.

There is also a very fine and exceptionally grand City Hall Annex immediately behind the Andrewartha building. It was completed in 1909 by Cornelius Curtin, who capped the giant Corinthian order of his Jefferson Street front with a well mannered cornice set at precisely the same height as the second story cornice of the parent building.

But like most city halls of the period, both the city’s original structure and its annex are conceived as sidewalk buildings with no need or ambition for an exterior presence beyond the depth of their own facades.

The little patches of ornamental grass across the street have never been seen as attributes, vicariously contributing to its functions or services, and they now offer rather less utility than the blacktop that paves the adjoining parking lot.


Cincinnati was a settlement of 350,000 by the time it built its present city hall in 1893.

With the exception of the clock tower on the south corner of the east front, the building’s east and west facades are mirror images with undifferentiated entries.


Only the broader or narrower width of the sidewalk offers a clue as to which may be the primary entry.

There are, in addition, four symmetrically placed and identical side entries,

two vehicle passages into the service court and a door to the ‘Police Court’. Other doors go unidentified. So the building has always been extraordinarily porous and must now be a nightmare to secure.
It is one of the heavier-handed examples of Samuel Hannaford’s rather heavy-handed work. Its clock tower nods to Siena but it otherwise shares little of the Palazzo Pubblico’s DNA, extravagantly importing its different building stones from Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and Wisconsin, its marble from Tennessee and Italy and, and its granite columns from Vermont, all to bring rather fidgety decorative surfaces to a singularly intimidating building with an overscaled council chamber of unparalleled bleakness.

The stairs from the lobby.

The Council Chamber, a little less windswept for Venetian blinds the size of ship’s sails and marginally more intimate for the twiddly little drapes and Christmas poinsettias.


That room is so bleak that it prompts me to think of its opposite, such as the truly grand council chamber of Ragnar Östberg at Stockholm City Hall of 1923, a chamber in which there is not an iota of flabby square footage, in which the human relationships are intimate and yet the plan and section, the scale and structure, the weight-destroying wall decoration and, above all the light, conspire together to make something altogether magical, expansive and ennobling.

Be this as it may, just as at Louisville, the Cincinnati building is set down on the sidewalk, filling the city block, the only exterior space it finds need of being its service court and the less than adequate light well at its cheerless core.

SOME MORE RECENT CITY HALLS

Turning any building program into architecture calls for two conditions: first, a client intent on making something of long-term value and participating in the process of making with critical but generous intelligence; and architects of knowledge and taste, equipped with a genuine interest in the human purposes of the program, with a concern for the site, its history and the prospects for its future, and with formal understanding and powers of constructive invention, who are then given the time and circumstances in which to do their job properly.
Here are twenty more recently completed city halls, presented in date order, in which these conditions are sometimes met and sometimes not. The list is not exhaustive. it has been cobbled together from one or two examples long known and revered and things of varying merit that have been sought and found in a bit of a hurry.

COMO, ITALY, 1936

This is one of those things long known and revered. Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio, completed in 1936 to house the municipal offices of Como in the days of Mussolini, could rightly be seen as a simple economical cube, but this would not begin to describe it. Terragni exercised an unparalleled discipline in the ordering of the plan and section, in determining the building’s response to the scale and proximity of its surrounding context and the views it might afford (which were significantly more generous then than now), its response to the arcing presence of the sun, its articulation of the internal functions on the exterior surfaces, and the proportions, rhythms and modeling of the facades.

The Casa del Fascio seen from Como’s cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The building was conceived as the modern day equivalent of the Renaissance palazzo, arranged around a two storey glazed atrium and exhibiting a high degree of transparency. ‘Fascism is a glass house’, Benito Mussolini had declared to Terragni. ‘In architectural terms this means clarity and honesty in construction,’ he had said. Terragni, a native of Como, embraced the Duce’s program.


The opposite side of the building prior to the additional development now occupying the remainder of the block, the extent of which was clearly not anticipated by the scale of this elevation: the two-storey stacked ‘giant order’ of its three central bays, perhaps more clearly seen in one of the drawings below; their generous openings on the ground and top floors, which mirror those of the front facade and, by means of the atrium, unite one piazza with the other; the large, slightly protrusive transparent opening of the staircase on the left; and the floor-to-ceiling window openings on the right. These all address a much more generous space than the present service yard.

Section looking east. Note the difference in the depth of the street walls: the shallower sunless north wall (left) and the deeper, sun-invaded south wall (right).

A three-quarter view of the Casa del Fascio. The balcony layer behind the columns of the west facade fronting onto the Piazza del Popolo, endows the structure with scale and monumentality, and provides the office walls with protection from the afternoon sun, while the deeply articulated fenestration of the street wall provides protection from the southern sun.

Each facade is a double square, the monumental west front, the simplest of the four facades, being gridded by uniform floor and column thicknesses into 4 equal floor heights and 7 equal but slightly larger bay widths. The diagonal of the double square becomes the ‘regulating line’ establishing the proportion of the subsidiary surfaces in the composition. The other three facades offer deceptively subtle variations on this theme. Common to all the facades are horizontal strip windows set at a height to provide seated occupants with a more or less panoramic view to the outdoors, while higher apertures of half their width furnish daylight to the rooms, except on the north wall where the larger rooms are centered and most of the glazing runs from sill to ceiling. Where transparency is undesirable or unnecessary glass block offers both daylight and privacy and adds to the local interest of the facades, inside as well as out.



A simplified diagram of the elevations showing the deep layering of the balconies within the west wall and a shallow recession in the east wall, which simply articulates the giant order of the three central bays.


Como exhibits with a stark ‘rationalist’ clarity certain fundamental properties that are requisite to any architecture: some manifest care for the site and its surroundings and an indelible certitude about the direction of North and the seasonal arcs of the sun; a readiness to explore the human purposes of the program and to visualize the spaces and spatial relationships that support and enhance them; a capacity to compose, order and detail the project so that structure and enclosure, opacity and transparency, materials and light come together in mutually supportive and coherent ways that are sometimes even compelling.

SAYNATSALO, FINLAND, 1952

Here is another gem. This charming little town hall was a salutary post-war affirmation by Alvar Aalto, Finland’s internationally prominent architect, of a reassessed, craft based modernism which, like Le Corbusier’s Maisons Jaoul of the same period, exerted a powerful influence on many thoughtful members of the profession, an influence that extended to those in my generation.

Säynätsalo is a municipality of three rugged islands in Lake Paijanne, about 170 miles north of Helsinki and, at 62 degrees north latitude, not so far from the Arctic Circle.



It began as an industrial community in 1897, when Johannes Parviainen bought the main island and set up a saw mill. In 1914, a plywood mill was started and in 1940, a factory prefabricating houses. By the time the town hall was built, some 3,000 people lived on the island, half of them employed in the factory.

The plan for the permanent settlement, locating the site for its town hall and library, had been designed by Aalto in the mid 1940s. The town hall is the courtyard building, the last significant structure on the inside of the bend in the road rising up through the island,

and while the entire town seems to be scattered among the trees it is anything but a frontier camp.

Second and Third Floor Plans. The south-facing Town Library is separated from the inverted U of the Municipal Offices by the granite eastern steps giving access to the elevated courtyard (raised by saving the spoil from foundations dug deep to find stable support below the frost line) and the broad, grass-covered western steps offering the librarian a quiet place for a summer afternoon children’s story. The Council Chamber is in the third floor tower. At grade beneath the Library are small shops and beneath the east and west sides of the Offices are apartments, providing a reserve of space for any future expansion of municipal services.

A section through the building looking east to the Council Chamber tower, with the Library and shops below it on the right.

West elevation showing the entry to two ground floor apartments and the grass steps. Note the multiple rhythms established in this facade, first, by the recession of the wall, retreating in shallow increments from the chimney stack at the north end toward the steps in the south, then by the varied window openings, and finally by the vertical lines incised in the upper brickwork with the same repetitive dimensional regularity as the ticking of a metronome. The explanation for their existence is that this brickwork encloses the unheated attic space of the building and in the winter the grooves prevent the formation of a frost line. But if strung together like the perforated sheets of an electrocardiograph, these elevations may be read as a musical score: quite literally, architecture as frozen music.
This deliberate musical property of the design was suggested one day in 1964 by a student in my First Year Studio at the Architectural Association School in London, who had been assigned Saynatsalo as part of a formal analysis exercise. "Indeed you’re quite right," exclaimed David Heal, an architect and musician who was participating in the review, "it’s a fugue and I shall play it for you." Which, one memorable evening a week or so later he did, together with a pianist colleague, in a splendid performance at paired pianos in the A.A. Member’s Room. The piece played more powerfully with two pianos so we were fortunate that David Heal was a scion of Hael’s, the renowned contemporary furniture and lighting company, for whom moving a second grand piano in and out of Bedford Square was all in a day’s work.

The grass steps. Note, on the left, the brick paved stair to the municipal offices, originally a small upper level apartment. The entry to a third ground floor apartment is tucked in beneath this stair.

South elevation showing the shops with the Library above

View across and through the Library to the courtyard and the north corridor of the Municipal Offices.

The Library embraces as much sunshine as its 62 degrees of latitude will afford.

The north corridor in the municipal offices.

East elevation and main steps.

The granite steps of the main entry at the east end of the Library, adjoining the Council Chamber tower.

Views of the entry to the Municipal offices and the vestibule with the stairs to the Council Chamber.

Views showing the two levels of entry to the Council Chamber, the lower for both councillors and members of the public, the upper to additional public seating.

The chamber, showing the councillor’s benches framed by public seating and illuminated by the large, shadowless window in the north wall.

The timber roof and its two elaborate trusses crowning the the soaring volume of the tower. When asked about the great height of the tower, over 55 feet, Aalto is reported to have said,

‘Gentlemen! The world's most beautiful and famous town hall, that of Siena, has a council chamber 16 meters high. I propose we build one that is 17 meters.’

Siena once again.

LOGROÑO, SPAIN, 1973-1981

Logroño is at the western end of the Pyrenees mountain range in northern Spain. It was established on the south bank of the river Ebro as a commercial port by the indefatigable Romans, after navigating its tortuous meanders for 300 miles or more up the Ebro Valley from the Mediterranean. Its present population is 155,000.

After the Third Carlist War of 1872-76, military barracks were erected on the eastern and western outskirts of Logroño -- the large rectangles seen in this late nineteenth century map of the town -- which then grew out around them. The eastern barracks, seen here with the city bull ring in the background, became home to Spain’s 12th Light Artillery Regiment, which gave its name to the adjacent east-west avenida. The demolition of the barracks in 1970 presented the opportunity for a new town hall, which was to be Logroño’s most important civic building, sharing its identity with a major new city square.

In 1973 Rafael Moneo, then aged 36, was commissioned to design the project. Close to forty years later he recalled:

‘Naturally the architectural character of a public building such as this one is largely shaped by its political context. The significance of this project was very clear to me at the time: the end of the old regime was in sight, and I could foresee that the new City Hall would house the first Democratic legislature.’.......

Generalissimo Francisco Franco, fascist dictator
of Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975, seen here
taking the salute during the Nationalist victory
parade in Madrid at the end of the Civil War on
May 20, 1939

…….’I had been delighted to receive a letter from Mayor Narciso de San Baldonero in 1973, entrusting me with the design. A passage from the project description conveys what the building represented and the role it played in what would become the city’s new political life: “In addition to fulfilling the necessary administrative functions, the city hall must also be a key element in the city’s structure, since it is, in a sense, a reflection of the city itself: the building acquires its meaning through the meaning of the city that it serves. This notion of a civic public building capable of addressing the questions about collective life – understood as a public body – that the inhabitants of cities ask themselves, calls for the new city hall to be approached not as a mere administrative building but rather as an attempt to achieve the degree of dignity sought by an institution of this nature without resorting to empty rhetoric and false monumentality”. According to these criteria this “sense of dignity should emerge from its relationship to the city itself: the more meaning the building draws from the city the more it will cease to exist as an object, and become a key piece, a true monument. Its architecture also has to be clear, easy to assimilate, accessible to the people who, even through its formal elements, should understand the meaning of a city hall as a public building at their service.” ‘
-- Rafael Moneo, Remarks on 21 Works, The Monacelli Press, New York, 2010, p.83

The project was developed between 1973 and 1974. Construction of the underground parking began in 1976 and the building was completed in 1981.

Quite early in his thinking Moneo took up the notion of a city hall square, seeing it as a continuation of the long Spanish tradition of the ‘Plaza Mayor’ represented by such city squares as:

the mid-thirteenth century Plaza Mayor in Valladolid;

the Plaza Mayor of Madrid, recorded at the center of Pedro Teixeira's huge Topographia de la Villa de Madrid of 1656;

the Plaza de la Corredera in Córdoba,1683;

the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca, 1729-55;

and just 55 miles northwest of Logroño, in the Basque capital of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the dual public spaces seen in this aerial view: on the west, the ancient Plaza de la Virgen Blanca (White Virgin), for centuries the market place and center of the city and now, with its walls of beautiful, white painted oriel windows framing its memorial to the 1813 Battle of Vitoria of the Napoleonic wars, acting as the astonishingly capacious antechamber to

the Plaza Nueva, or España, of 1781. Entered from three sides on central axes, and closed by the city hall dug into the rising grade on the north, this, too, is a place in daily use which accommodates many special events

Moneo remarks that these ‘.....are only a few of the cities whose main squares include the city hall as a gathering place for their citizens. In these cities the square and the city hall are considered as a whole. But in Logroño, the public-space-turned-into-a-building that the city hall claimed to be could not knowledge the orthogonal grid of the existing urban fabric; instead it presented itself as incomplete and oblique in relation to the tree-lined street that enters the city. By renouncing the continuity of the city grid, the new Plaza Mayor would be actively inscribed in the urban fabric, turning what could be seen as an “institutional background perspective” into a building that could be referred to as a “monument……..” Ibid, p.75.

The aerial view of Logroño, however, informs us that Moneo’s 45 degree rotation of the facades onto the plaza should not be entirely regarded the dramatic renunciation of the urban grid that he claims it to be.
Rather, it should be recognized as a close approximation of the rotated grid to be found in the adjacent superblock, which he has cleverly extended to serve additional useful purposes simultaneously. Certainly, in combination with the long allee of trees on the Avenida de la Paz, the rotated facades frame a very generous urban space, the triangular Plaza del Ayuntamiento, or Town Hall Square. But it also gives visible structure to his three-part program of cultural facilities in the smaller west triangle, municipal offices, in the larger east triangle, and the council chamber elevated a level above grade in the slot of space north of the triangles. And these allees of trees, it might further be noted, screen and effectively efface the presence of the building except for the two facades to the plaza and the elevated Council Chamber, set out plain for all to see and terminating the southern end of the subsequently constructed pedestrian boulevard, bending southward through another 45 degrees from the shallows in the Ebro to the Plaza Ayuntamiento. And while we are speaking of pedestrian movement, the rotational scheme also affords any number of convenient diagonal paths across the site -- what the peddlers of ‘landscape architecture’ refer to with embarrassingly unwitting prurience as ‘desire lines’.



Now that it’s mature, the screen of trees is highly effective. This first view in a clockwise circuit of the site is from the north-east corner on the Avenida de Doce Ligero de Artilleria (Avenue of the 12th Light Artillery), looking toward the elevated Council Chamber. The entry ramp to underground parking for the city’s service vehicles is seen on the far right. The shadow on the sidewalk is cast by the school across the street behind the camera. Its boys play impromptu soccer here and on the main Plaza at the end of the school day.

A closer view of the Council Chamber and a view from beneath it looking back to the Avenida de Doce Ligero de Artilleria. In the second photo, a glimpse of the entry to City Hall is seen on the right, and though it’s rather faint in this view, the ‘focal point’ of the scheme may be discerned in the circular stone paving pattern.

The similarities between the spatial constructs at play here and in this view through the portico of Gunnar Asplund’s Woodland Crematorium in Stockholm (1935-40), are inescapable.

The pedestrian boulevard leading from the Council Chamber to the Ebro is seen through the columns to the left.

A view directly toward the reclusive entry to City Hall with the Plaza seen out beyond the piers to the right.

Returning to our circuit of the site on the Avenida de Doce Ligero de Artilleria, the municipal offices achieve the neutral presence they seek behind the allee of trees.

In sudden transformation, a view into the Plaza through the monumental portico in the southeast corner of the site.


Views of the portico and its granite drinking fountain set into the loadbearing Salamanca sandstone wall. The bronze sculprure, Dama de la fuente, or Lady of the Source, is by the Madrid sulptor, Francisco López, and is now a well recognized icon for Logroño.

The portico seen from the plaza. The corner pier closing the colonnade also does duty as a diminutive clock tower, which is as reticent to assert an institutional identity independent from the space of the plaza, as any other element in the composition of these restrained facades,


which are clearly indebted for much of their inspiration to Asplund’s Stockholm Exhibition of 1930

A view down the length of the giant colonnade from the southeast portico. At close proximity the materials and detailing take on a tactile presence, the granite base and rough heavy sandstone wall and pier in sharp contrast with the steel canopy supports, so slender as to be almost in tension.


Across from the portico on the Avenida de la Paz

The greatest dimension of the space seen from mid-block. One of the points of access to the underground parking is seen on the far left.


Two views from the southwest corner of the plaza

Another view from the southwest corner of the plaza looking up the Paseo Dax toward one of the entry ramps to the underground parking. In the final planting scheme, Moneo was happy to have the plaza open up, unscreened, to the only perimeter building of interest, the boldly striped School of Arts and Crafts seen here on the left, built on the western boundary of the site by an early twentieth century Spanish Butterfield -- but itself already pretty well screened and muted by its own double row trees.

The western corner of the cultural facilities wing of the building. Note the deep recess of the south-facing windows exposing the thickness of the sandstone walls, the detailing of which shows a little indebtedness to the Casa del Fascio in Como.

A view along the western colonnade with the parking exit ramp rising up in front of the windows to the public exhibition space.

The view back to the Paseo Dax, quietly revealing that the piers and lintels in this section of load bearing masonry construction are actually a reinforced concrete frame clad in thick and thin veneers of sandstone, the granite column bases being, likewise, mere baseboards. Making a candid and coherent architecture has never been easy. In these days of advanced building systems and environmental technologies it presents problems quite as ticklish as any encountered in brain surgery.

The view at the end of the Paseo Dax and ending our circuit of the site. This shows the mayor’s office tucked beneath the stepped seating of the Council Chamber. in the foreground is the parking exit ramp for the city’s service vehicles.

There are few views of the interior but few as they are, they succeed in reminding us of Moneo’s initial ambition to build a ‘gorgeous’ city hall. Here is the view from the entrance to the information desk and the public reception hall beyond.

The reception hall with its little grove of tall cylindrical columns and its wonderful reflected clerestory light, made more ample and cheerfully invasive by the white surfaces and the glossy floor.

It is quite strongly reminiscent of the anteroom to the assembly chamber in the Parliament Building at Chandigarh, the capital of the Punjab, despite Le Corbusier’s cool-seeking gloom, but Logroño’s luminosity is inspired by Asplund’s extension to the Gothenburg Law Courts of 1914-37, which Moneo greatly admires:

‘The project depended upon a body of knowledge that is the heart of the architecture discipline, knowledge that makes it possible to employ the minimum of resources capable of giving form to an element and, in the end, to an entire building. At the time, the political atmosphere in Spain was conducive to working with quasi-generic elements, forcing me to design without rhetoric and to use a language devoid of any stylistic connotation. In that respect, it seems appropriate to mention the extent of my admiration for Erik Gunnar Asplund’s extension to the Goteborg Town Hall [sic], which is for me the paradigm of Nordic architecture and a model that is undoubtedly implicit in the Logroño project. The lucidity with which Asplund solves the architectural problems – and particularly his precision in developing the details – was always an example for me, as can be seen in the special attention paid to the interior design and its defining elements.’ Ibid., pp. 80-81.

Gunnar Asplund, extension to the Gothenburg Law Courts

The main stair in the west wing of the building, and the large window into the Council Chamber on the left, receiving light from the skylight above. Note the contrast between the robust horizontal pipe railing along the corridors and the much lighter railing on the stairs, about which Moneo has this to say:

‘....the main stair has always been one of the canonical elements in Spanish city halls. In Logroño, the main stair should be looked at from two different points of view that may appear to be opposed. On the one hand, it is an independent element that may remind us of some medieval staircases in the way that the different flights of stairs are successively set back from one another; while on the other hand, it gives meaning to an interior void around which the most prominent public spaces are grouped.’ (Ibid. p. 85)

Among the many public events held on the plaza are commemorations of dates and people important to the city;


Rallies on various scales;

Demonstrations and protests;

Traveling exhibitions;



Over the past few years at Christmas-time, there is the life-size reconstruction of the nativity scene -- actually a miniature reproduction of the front of Logroño’s oldest church, the twelfth century San Bartolomé -- placed in an increasingly elaborate make- believe Bethlehem, in which there appears to be strong public participation.


City Transportation department and Sanitation Department shows;


Rain or shine, kids’ basketball and ‘Three-on-Three’ events;


And concerts such as this one to a packed audience on the Feast of san Mateo.


And when there are no events the plaza returns to the quiet enjoyments of the local residents.

Thus the building accomplishes Moneo’s purpose of making a generous urban space and becoming, in the process, so much a part of the city fabric with such modest totality -- no pomp, no axes, no readily discernible entry, no ceremonial balcony overlooking the plaza and scarcely a hint as to its varied internal functions on the exterior surfaces, which exhibit rather the characteristics of an overscaled and slightly extravagant housing project -- so modest, in fact, as to make its identity as the City Hall problematic. And yet there seems to be nothing enigmatic about its character to the citizens of Logroño, and its reputation beyond Logroño continues to draw little streams of people to see it from all around the globe.

To continue with the next part of this essay, click HERE.