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Industrial Spanish town opts for the arts

Niemeyer architecture leads revitalization in Aviles.

Aerial view of Niemeyer art center under construction in Aviles, Jan. 4, 2010. (Nardo Villaboy/Niemeyer Center/Global Post)

MADRID, Spain — The magnetic singularity of one man’s world-renowned architecture is being put to the test in the Spanish coastal town of Aviles.

Rising out of tidal terrain reclaimed from generations of pollutant industries, the outer structure of the Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Center promises a brighter future for those living in this secluded land of Spain’s north.

“It is an icon for the 21st century,” said Mercedes Alvarez, Cultural Councilor of the Asturias Principality. And expectations are that it will deliver a revitalization comparable to that accomplished by the Guggenheim Museum built in the northern industrial port of Bilbao a few hours drive to the east.

“We live and breathe Niemeyer,” observed Roberto Alonso, the local architect tapped to oversee the master’s plan brought to fruition by September 2010. “It is a privilege and enormous responsibility because town folks already feel an attachment to the structure and all it represents.”

Like the figurehead at the front of a ship, local leaders say the art center will spearhead the renewal of more than 6 million square feet (572,000 square meters) along the tidal inlet of Aviles, dubbed the "Island of Innovation."

The cleaning up or clearing out of traditional industries like mechanics, heavy metals and chemicals, cost the area jobs in the 1980s and 90s. Leaders say the art center sets the groundwork to attract promising industries like culture and technology that aim to capitalize on the internet to stay connected and foster local employment.

“The social sensibility of this project pleases me,” said Oscar Niemeyer from his Brazil studio in a video presentation of the art center design he has donated. (Note: Video is in Portuguese with Spanish subtitles.) “It is open to the public, to visit, to stroll through the plaza, take in the scenery, the museum, the works of art and the shows.”

The art center grounds look out onto the town’s tidal inlet and nearby Bay of Biscay. A dome built from reinforced concrete houses the museum with 43,000 square feet (4,000 square meters) of room for exhibits. It is ranked among the largest such spaces in Europe. A pale indoor color scheme and functional but unobtrusive doors will add to the effect.

“Compressing space at the entryways that is later unleashed into the museum is a tremendous change of scale,” explained Alonso.