Architecture: Like born in the volcano

The basalt, which had to be honed down on one side of the stadium's foundation, was piled to form the surrounding wall. The windows belong to the athletes' apartments.(February 2009) The new Athletics Stadium (Centro Insular de Atletismo) on the Spanish island of Tenerife is a textbook example demonstrating how architects can use local stone for environmentally friendly building all the while putting the regional character at the centre of focus. Basalt, which determines the character of the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco, was employed as the dominant material whereas the design reminds one of a giant crater. The complex was completed in 2007 and received praise and acclaim at last year’s Natural-Stone-Awards Piedra 2008.

The stadium was built on an inclined plane on the outskirts of Santa Cruz. So it was necessary to hone the volcanic basalt down to an even level. Also a stadium usually has high walls surrounding it – particularly important on this site as the trade winds can be very strong.

The local architects amp arquitectos decided on a simple solution: basalt honed down on the one side of the site was piled up to create a wall around the structure. The layers were stabilised with the help of liquid concrete poured inbetween the chunks of rock. There are cavities, which can later be filled with soil allowing local vegetation to take hold. Due to lack of funding, but one example is presently on display.

The stone ring is interrupted by a concrete grandstand, seating up to 4000 spectators and can be extended to accommodate 6000. Part of the stone wall integrates facilities for visitors, athletes, etc. The complex is optically highlighted by 12 apartments housing up to 48 athletes. Here the outer walls are not comprised of thick basalt chunks but rather clad in basalt slabs encased in concrete, which makes for a quiet surface.

There is more to say on the subject of basalt as a building material: The entrance to the stadium on the side of the tribune was clad in irregular basalt slabs made of 4 cm-thick slices taken from the excavated stone. Any stone left over was then passed on to the shredder and serves as a filter for rainwater, with which the soccer field inside the oval is sprinkled.

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Fotos: Hisao Suzuki

The basalt, which had to be honed down on one side of the stadium's foundation, was piled to form the surrounding wall. The windows belong to the athletes' apartments.

Basalt as part of the island’s identity

The island of Tenerife first appeared about seven to five million years ago as a result of volcanic activity. The picture of the island is determined by the 3700 m high Pico del Teide, a volcanic mountain, whose peak is the highest in Spain including the mainland. Basalt is the standard building material on the island and dominates the picture of the capitol La Laguna where e.g. the sidewalks are paved with it.

This ancient city stands under the protection of the Unesco world cultural heritage, but parts of it are heavily damaged. Of the 640 original historical sites about 250 still need to be restored as can be read in the French magazine Pierre Actual (June 2007). Investors are being sought. They must comply with official building regulations.

The resistance movement of the island’s inhabitants against attacks throughout the centuries is legendary. First the Guanches resisted the Spanish until they were forced to surrender in 1483 and bow to superior military strength. In the periods following, the islands became indispensable to the like of Christopher Columbus and his followers as a priceless base on their numerous trips to America. From here conquistadores could use the strong trade winds to expedite their journey.

From 1657 onward the British made several attempts to conquer the islander, in vain. One of these attacks was led by Horatio Nelson. To this very day pub owners have their very own anecdotes: The islanders not only delivered Nelson the only clear defeat of his admiralty, they even shot off his right arm.

A quaint custom on the island revolves around survival and basalt: children are routinely taught to mill grain into flour for bread in school.