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Kursaal Cultural Centre

Rafael Moneo San Sebastian, Spain



Structural Engineers: Javier Manterola, Hugo Corres and Associates, Jesus Jimenez Canas

Alissa Weaver
IMAGE 1
Rafael Moneo
In 1978, at the age of 41, Rafael
Moneo wrote in his Oppositions
article “On Typology”,
“The traditional typological
approach, which has tried to
recover the old idea of
architecture, has largely failed.
Thus, perhaps the only means
architects have to master form
today is to destroy it.”1

In 1989, when Moneo designed


the Kursaal Centre, little had
changed. His architectural
outlook, in the words of Stanley
Allen, was still “characterized by
internal disjunction”, and in his
design of the Kursaal Centre, he
destroyed the form of the cube,
inclining it toward the sea, the
composition a “fragile
equilibrium among disparate
parts.”2
IMAGE 2
Site
A large part of Moneo’s design addresses the Kursaal site
as an area of “geographical accidents”. In San Sebastian,
“the Cantabrian Sea eddies in La Concha Harbor,
reproducing all the accidents of geography to be found in
textbooks: bays, islands, beaches, estudiaries, and hills.”3
Moneo refused to erect any building that violated the
natural landscape and the presence of the river.

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IMAGE 4 IMAGE 5
Design Aside from refusing to violate the
natural presence of the river in the
city, Moneo sought to create two
separate and autonomous volumes,
prisms stranded at the mouth of the
river as if they were gigantic rocks.
The rocks belong to the landscape
and not the sea, and they create a
point of interest between Mount Ulia
and Mount Igueldo. Moneo chose to
celebrate the idea of geographic
accident by inclining each prism
three degrees on the horizontal and
five degrees on the vertical4 toward
the sea and the mountains beyond.
Each prism has an auditorium
ascribed asymmetrically within it,
referencing Moneo’s desire to
destroy pure form and create fragile
compositions. The only exterior view
afforded in each is through a single
window, which faces Mount Urgull in
the larger prism and Mount Ulia in
the smaller.
IMAGE 6
Program
The primary functions of the Kursaal
Centre are contained within the two
prismatic volumes. The larger of the
volumes contains the auditorium, and the
smaller of the volumes contains congress
hall, which is suitable for small musical
IMAGE 7 - SECOND FLOOR PLAN
performances. The larger of the halls
seats 1,828 people, and the smaller seats
624 people.4

The secondary functions of the building


are contained in its low, wedgelike base.
The platform at the base of the prisms
contains exhibition halls, meeting rooms,
offices, restaurants, retail, banquet halls
IMAGE 8 - FIRST FLOOR PLAN
and musicians’ services. The area also
contains information and ticket booths.

In the sub-basement, a 720 car parking


structure provides public parking for the
small operas and musical performances
within, as well as for surfers who visit the
Playa de la Zurriola.5
IMAGE 9 - BASEMENT PLAN
Sections + Elevations
Moneo’s elevations from his 1989 competition drawings emphasize the incline of the prisms
in ways unexpressed in perspective. Moneo’s sections show the concrete beams in the
auditorium and over the lobby. In section, the cavity between the layers of translucent glass
facade appears to be massive. In reality, the cavity is two meters in depth, a substantial
distance.

IMAGE 10 IMAGE 11

EXTERIOR STRUCTURE AND FACADE SYSTEM


EXTERIOR STRUCTURE AND FACADE SYSTEM

CONCRETE BEAMS
CONCRETE BEAMS

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Structure
The Kursaal Centre has a double glass skin made of concave
translucent glass tiles on the exterior and strips of translucent glass
on the interior. These glass tiles and strips are supported entirely by
an independent steel structure. The thick facade is separated from
the interior auditorium boxes, which are made of concrete, clad in
timber panels. The structure of the auditorium boxes is completely
independent of the building’s facade.

IMAGE 14

IMAGE 15 IMAGE 16
Facade System
The steel system which
supports the facade is
made of box columns
and angled box beams,
welded at the joints. The
module for the spacing
of the bays is six meters,
large enough to allow
tempered air circula-
tion and service access.
The concave glass tiles
are attached to the steel
structure using struts and IMAGE 18
two steel mounting clips. IMAGE 19
The corner joints of the
glass, which are bevelled
to meet cleanly, are re-
peated or simply inverted
at every corner to re-
duce the need for custom
details. The horizontal
joints between the glass
have a custom V-shaped
channel made of cast alu-
IMAGE 17 minum.6
IMAGE 20

The roof is supported by trusses which


span freely from one side to the other.
The mechanical systems are suspended
from the trusses and hang above the au-
ditoriums, transmitting no vibrations dur-
ing performances and allowing the roof
to share the translucent glass aesthetic
of the facade. The gravity load of the
facade, roof trusses, and mechanical sys-
tems is transferred to the steel columns
and box beams. The building resists the
lateral load created by the strong salt
laden winds through structural repetition,
lateral bracing in the trusses, and deep
piles which anchor the building to its con-
crete foundation.6

IMAGE 17 IMAGE 18
Cast Concrete System
There are 48,000 cubic meters of concrete in the Kursaal Centre and over 6,000 tons of steel
reinforcement.7 The tilt-up concrete walls and concrete beams containing the auditoriums
are concealed behind cedarwood. The independent structures meet the facade only through
the intermediary stair platforms, which are simply supported by a steel haunch, welded to
the exterior steel structure.

IMAGE 22

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Concrete Beams
The precast concrete beams in the
Kursaal Centre support the roof of
the interior auditorium volume. The
beams taper in response to the forces
of compression and tension, providing
more material on the top of the beam,
where compression occurs. The
photograph of the model on the left
does not include the concrete beams;
however, if included, they would be
IMAGE 20 placed above the framing joists for
the timber paneling. The image below
shows the tilt-up concrete walls in
yellow and the precast concrete
beams in red. The presence of the
concrete beams only above the timber
ceiling responds to the additional load
of the secondary ceiling system.

COMPRESSION

TENSION

IMAGE 13 ROUGH CROSS SECTION OF PRECAST CONCRETE BEAM


Stairs
IMAGE 24 IMAGE 25

On April 12, 1998, the stairs within the Kursaal


Centre collapsed. The failure was attributed to
the steel supports, which were changed from the
original design to increase the ease of
construction at the last minute.

IMAGE 26
IMAGE 27

The collapse occurred on a


holiday, and no one was in-
jured. The design on the right,
when compared to the photo-
graphs of the failed structure,
shows the steel was not strong
IMAGE 28
enough to support the gravity
load; hence, the rebar failed
in bending. This occurred be-
cause welding weakened the
U-shaped steel bars at their
point of greatest stress, where
they met the slab. The ac-
tual design in the Kursaal Cen-
tre today is shown below and
IMAGE 23 right.7 IMAGE 29
Details

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Interiors
Moneo plays with the scale of the cedar cladding on the interior and exterior of the concrete
auditorium forms. He establishes greater contrast through his use of bands of artificial light on
the interior, referencing the bands of translucent glass on the facade and in the lobby spaces.
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Footnotes 1: Assemblage, p 20
2: Assemblage, p 20
3: Assemblage, p 8
4: Rockwool
5: Monolithic Architecture, p 104
6: Architectural Record, p 221
7: Serna, p 2

IMAGE 35
Image Index
IMAGE 1: ROCKWOOL
IMAGE 2: CROQUIS P 5
IMAGE 3: FUNDACIO MIIES VAN DER ROHE P 19
IMAGE 4: HTTP://ENG.ARCHINFORM.NET/MEDIEN/00001714.HTM
IMAGE 5: GOOGLE MAPS
IMAGE 6: CROQUIS P 139
IMAGE 7: CROQUIS P 146
IMAGE 8: CROQUIS P 146
IMAGE 9: CROQUIS P 140
IMAGE 10: CROQUIS P 141
IMAGE 11: CROQUIS P 142
IMAGE 12: CROQUIS P 148
IMAGE 13: CROQUIS P 147
IMAGE 14: ROCKWOOL
IMAGE 15: HTTP://PEOPLE.DEAS.HARVARD.EDU/~JONES/LAB_ARCH/MONEO/KURSAAL/KURSAAL.HTML
IMAGE 16: HTTP://WWW.JORGETUTOR.COM
IMAGE 17: ROCKWOOL
IMAGE 18: PODRECCA
IMAGE 19: ROCKWOOL
IMAGE 20: CROQUIS P 147
IMAGE 21: CROQUIS P 147
IMAGE 22: HTTP://WWW.TECTONICA.ES/
IMAGE 23: PODRECCA
IMAGE 24: SERNA
IMAGE 25: SERNA
IMAGE 26: SERNA
IMAGE 27: SERNA
IMAGE 28: SERNA
IMAGE 29: SERNA
IMAGE 30: ARCHITECTURAL RECORD P 221
IMAGE 31: ARCHITECTURAL RECORD P 219
IMAGE 32: FUNDACIO MIES VAN DER ROHE P 26
IMAGE 33: ARCHITECTURAL RECORD P 218
IMAGE 34: HTTP://WWW.FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/ISAAC_SF
IMAGE 35: FUNDACIO MIES VAN DER ROHE P 27
Bibliography
Cohn, David. “Like Two Glowing Crystals, Rafael Moneo’s Centro Kursaal in
Northern Spain Captures the Energy of the City and Landscape.”
Architectural Record, v. 188 issue 5, 2000, p. 212-223.

Fundacio Mies van der Rohe. European Union Prize for Contemporary
Architecture: Mies van der Rohe Award 2001. Actar: Barcelona, 2001.

“The Kursaal Cultural Center: Rafael Moneo’s Glass Cubes in San Sebastian.”
Rockwool. < http://www.rockwool.dk/sw57795.asp>.

Machado, Rodolfo and Rudolphe el-Khoury. Monolithic Architecture. New


York: Prestel-Verlag, 1995.

Moneo, Jos. “Kursaal : Cultural Center for San Sebastian, Spain.” Assemblage,
issue 14, 1991, p. 6-23.

Moneo, Jos. “Rafael Moneo 1990-1994.” Croquis, issue 64, 1994.

Podrecca, Boris. Einführen in das Entwerfen Analyse Raffael Moneo: Kursaal


San Sebastian. < http://www.uni-stuttgart.de/irg/irg/home/ee/kursaal/
index.html>.

Serna, Miguel A., et al. “Failure of Steel-Concrete Connections at the Kursaal


Auditorium.” University of the Basque Country: San Sebastian, 1999.