The Spanish Cult of Phantom Buildings
Back in 2012, BCN World was dreamed up as a macrocomplejo turístico with thematic leisure parks and casinos, shopping and convention centres and a hotel with a capacity for 12,000 guests. It was all to be bolted conveniently on to Salou’s Port Aventura and opened sometime this year. At the moment of writing, however, BCN World is a vacant space in a dusty descampado, gathering tumbleweed while it waits for a green light from the Plan Director Urbanístic (PDU). Could it be yet another failed building project in a country famous for extravagant overbuilding and overspending? In our beloved Iberia these unmaterialized building projects are known as edificios fantasmas. Welcome to the world of the contemporary ruin, the airport without airplanes, the fishless aquarium and the watchtower with no views. Following on are six of the most infamous examples of the Spanish cult of phantom buildings …
Torre Miramar, Valencia
A watchtower erected at a cost of €24 million to the taxpayer should have some pretty nice views. Curiously, this watchtower, which looks like a buried llama and is close to the V-21 at the northern entrance to Valencia (should you wish to go there to do some phantom building-spotting), peers over a road network, a disused wasteland of asfalto and bricks, and a dirty-looking canal. Sadly you can’t get in to the llama's head. The elevator’s broken and it’s been closed for the last four years (having been open for a grand total of just three months during its 7 year lifespan). Fortunately there are numerous road tunnels, an example of public art which most motorists confuse with the abandoned obras, a bunch of dead palm trees and some interesting roundabouts to enjoy in the vicinity. The Ayuntamiento de Valencia meanwhile, who masterminded the watchtower, refused to employ a security guard and were unwilling to spend another centimo of their easily-embezzled money on it, after the economic crisis had hit. So for the moment the llama is abandoned, destined to remain an extraordinarily incongruous folly of public spending.
Aquarium de San Fernando, Cádiz
Cádiz. Perched on a crag at the confluence of the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas, a naval city described by Laurie Lee as ‘a scribble of white on a sheet of blue glass.’ With its proud maritime heritage, Cadiz’s city council believed it would be a winner to build a magnificent aquarium in the bay area of San Fernando. Once it was built, however, this magnificent aquarium unintentionally ended up making a magnificent statement in favour of animal rights, because there's not a single fish in it. Part of the Parque de la Historia y el Mar de San Fernando, the aquarium fantasmagórico occupies 27000m2 of dockland overlooking the canal network, and was designed to attract 200,000 visitors a year to the area. Instead, without any company willing to come forward and invest money, all it’s attracted is funghi and public outrage.
Parque de Relajación, Torrevieja
The Park of Relexation is an impressive, twisting, snail-like building, originally intended to be one of Spain’s most exclusive spas. Designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito at a cost of €1.5 million, it was abandoned because it had been dropped slap bang in the heart of a zona protegida, the Parque Natural de las Lagunas de la Mata-Torrevieja. Until a couple of years ago if you drove by Torrevieja you could still see it lying beside the laguna like a derelict crustacean. But then people started to pilfer its materials, in particular the copper spirals which reinforced its roof. Now all that remains of possibly the most innovative piece of contemporary crustacean-inspired architecture in Torrevieja is its carcass.
El Algarrobico, Cabo de Gata, Almeria
‘A monstrous hotel yards from the beach in a protected national park? Go for it!’
And they did. The architect of this eye-watering blotch on Cabo de Gata’s beautifully desolate landscape was the firm Azata del Sol. They obviously didn’t read the Ley de Costas, which offers strict guidelines about what you can’t build in protected coastal areas. Now it has the legend 'ILLEGAL' painted in big black letters all across its facade, but it's still there. Can't someone tell it to go away?
Pasarela Formula 1, Nazaret, Valencia
Another contribution from the ample Valencian portfolio of phantom buildings was this gorgeously appointed, cutting-edge bridge linking the Formula One circuit with the portside district of Nazaret. It cost €2 million, and has so far seen 15 days of crossing action since constuction. The reason? The council only opened it to the public for the Grand Prix, which was in town for three days a year. The circuit has since closed its doors, leaving the Grand Prix Bridge without a Grand Prix. The ghostly pasarela is located beside a leafy plaza off the Carrer Suiza and crosses a dirty canal. Bus no. 4 takes you there from the city centre, in case you’re in town and want a glimpse.
Castellon Airport, Castellon
The Phantom Airport, as the mother of all phantom obras came to be known, offers a little hope to other stunted building projects. Not because over €160 million was built on constructing it without a single plane being spotted on its runways for four years after opening. But because finally last year, the first official flight landed, carrying members of Villarreal’s football team, and the airport has now been cleared for international flights. It works! It actually works! Maybe, with the right investment, BCN World can too...