Visitors Center in Atapuerca

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

Atapuerca – a UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site located in northern Spain – holds fossils of earliest human remains found in Europe from nearly one million years ago. The 1,625 m2 (17,491 ft2) visitor center contains an information center, cafe, offices, as well as classrooms and a gallery.

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © a3gm + Mata y asociados

Site plan courtesy of architect

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © a3gm + Mata y asociados

First floor plan courtesy of architect

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © a3gm + Mata y asociados

Section courtesy of architect

The expanded metal skin surrounds the two rectangular concrete volumes.

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

The smaller box contains an information center, bookstore, administration, and service areas. The visitors enter the building through openings on the perforated metal screen and into the rest area.

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

The exhibition space and classrooms are in the larger volume. These rooms can be subdivided for groups of 25 people or opened to house conferences of 100. 

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

Throughout the building, there are momentary back to the site where the important remains were discovered.

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

JA+U : Visitors Center in Atapuerca by a3gm + Mata y asociados © Mata y asociados

The following is an excerpt from the description by architects a3gm and Mata y asociados:

The image of the building initially refers to the volumes present in the surrounding landscape, with great presence: natural elements ordained by human intervention, such as straw piles, or clumps of trees. Behind this reading of the envelope that filters and qualifies both the perception of the building inside and outside the image from the inside of the rooms, the direct sunlight, wind, appears logical scale and performance of a building exchange visitors and cultural flows. The interior facades are conceived as a volume cut in plan to allow expansion in the interstitial space, and in section to introduce daylight and express to the outside the performance of the parts.

The Center also seeks metaphorical proximity to the site, that effectively contributes to the production of new architectural organism, by recreating a part of the building that belongs to the earth (stereotomic) and one that is detached from it (tectonic), a mask protection as light as possible wrapping the whole. In this sense, the building is designed with a big concrete box -petrous nature- pierced by large skylights, and an outer perforated net that wraps and covers acting as a second skin.

The interstitial space generated between the net and the concrete box recalls the archaeological site workspace. At the building entrance this space is conceived as a rest area, and the one of the opposite corner as a multipurpose outside area. The indoor exhibition space chooses a route between major structural concrete screens in addition to the presence of the lecture halls. At the entrance there is a space for information and sales of publications, a cafeteria and administrative and service areas.

The lightweight exterior enclosure has a discontinuous character, it is punctured or disappears in singular points as the entrance plaza and the gazebo. It generates a variable section in the access area with very strong relationships between the open space of the square and the space of the terrace-gazebo, in contrast to the austerity of the outer box.