Yellow Garden

[Originally published in Bauwelt #16.2022]

When Spain imposed its nation-wide lockdown to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus on 14 March 2020, all non-essential businesses and services had to close, and all citizens except for essential workers were confined at home. Spain’s lockdown, one of the most severe and long-lasting, began to be lifted months later, in late June, when a gradual reopening process begun. Neighborhood bars, cafés and restaurants, sorely missed by much of the population during lockdown, were among the first businesses permitted to reopen, but only during certain hours, at reduced capacity, and with clients seated outdoors at tables of limited size spaced a certain distance apart. This required a great deal of extra outdoor space that Mediterranean urbanism couldn’t always deliver, and so countless on-street car-parking spaces throughout the country were suddenly transformed into provisional outdoor seating for catering establishments. All this coincided with a much larger “tactical urbanism” movement to temporarily pedestrianize street space using brightly colored paint, bollards, and jersey barriers. 

Nightclubs, however, had to remain closed for the time being, despite also being sorely missed by many. At first, only nightclubs situated far from residential areas and with outdoor space of their own were permitted to open, such as those situated on remote beaches or along rural highways. One nightclub, Industrial Copera, a hub of southern Spain’s techno scene situated in an industrial park outside the city of Granada, immediately spotted an opportunity. The club’s premises, consisting mainly of a large discotheque inside an industrial warehouse, also happened to include an adjacent plot of empty land that it used for unloading delivery trucks as well as for throwing private afterparties.  

An indeterminate piece of leftover land, the kind that theorist Ignasi de Solà-Morales famously termed “terrain vague,” became the very salvation of this nightclub during those difficult times. Granadino architect Tomás García Píriz was entrusted to transform the site into El Jardín de la Industrial Copera, a new outdoor venue that would temporarily act as a substitute for the indoor venue until things returned to normal, after which another use would be found for it.    

The resulting transformation of this empty industrial lot is a night-and-day turnaround. Separated from the street and a neighboring gas station by an utterly banal concrete block wall, the site’s only inherent qualities were some trees, shrubs, and ivy growing through cracks in the pavement; a “non-pedigreed” or “third landscape” à la Ian McHarg and Gilles Clément respectively. The sprawling, non-descript industrial park itself sits amidst the beautiful agricultural landscape of La Vega de Granada, from which the Iberian peninsula’s highest mountain, Mulhacén, rises majestically to the southwest along with the rest of the Sierra Nevada.  

Situated at the very center of the plot of land it occupies, the El Jardín courtyard contains different architectural elements along its four edges: a musical stage at the back of the plot, a wing containing bathrooms at the front, a bar along the warehouse edge, and a row of trees and ground vegetation together with a partition that separates the courtyard from a driveway that is now the unloading area for both venues. An L-shaped mezzanine capping the bar and the washroom wing overlooks the dance floor and stage much like an opera balcony, while also providing distant views of La Vega and the mountains.  

El Jardín is entered from Desmond Tutu street through an industrial sliding door that leads to an entrance foyer. From here, the courtyard is accessed through a rounded corner opening with a tree growing through its center while a bright yellow steel stair ascends to the mezzanine. As El Jardín is completely outdoors, “interior” spaces such as the foyer, washrooms, and the bar are generously ventilated through gaps where walls meet floors and ceilings. This idea extends even to the partition between courtyard and driveway, which is levitated so that the vegetation has more room to grow. The structure is a steel frame supporting projected concrete that has been painted deep black to provide a contrasting background that highlights the ample vegetation and bright yellow architectural details and graphics; a color and material palette that recalls the “tactical urbanism” being implemented at the time in many cities. “The project was designed so it could be built quickly and inexpensively,” explains the architect, “and its location in an industrial park meant we could use entirely local builders and suppliers. It’s an entirely kilómetro cero project!”  

As an outcome of a health pandemic, El Jardín is a highly inventive architectural project; one born entirely out of conditions beyond anyone’s control. It exemplifies an approach based on improvisation and taking advantage of found spaces and objects to make the best of given circumstances. “It was never really clear how this garden would be used after the pandemic,” reveals García Píriz. “When the interior of Industrial Copera was finally permitted to open, El Jardín became its new main entrance, converting the courtyard into a forecourt to the whole place.” Indeed, La Copera Industrial’s programming now includes a new series of events held exclusively in the courtyard around sunset; a development highly in tune with Spain’s increasingly popular afternoon-to-evening tardeo parties. 

By virtue of its highly provisional and open-ended nature, El Jardín is analogous to free jazz, or indeed to a live DJ set. Improvisation in art, music or theater entails the involvement of unpredictability and therefore the element of risk, which in architecture means raising the stakes significantly. Yet it was precisely the indeterminate nature of El Jardín that allowed it to be subsequently transformed into a new type of post-covid cultural venue that is today an attraction for this club. What started out as ersatz has become a feature. García Píriz has succeeded in transforming this terrain vague into a courtyard garden that, like the nearby Alhambra, creates an oasis for the hedonistic enjoyment of earthly pleasures.

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