Metallic Fabric Encases Concert Hall In Argentina's Prestigious Ballena Azul
Buenos Aires’ colonial past has characterized the architecture and atmosphere of the city right up to the present day. And now, with the opening of the Centro Cultural Kirchner in the heart of Buenos Aires, the metropolis boasts the largest cultural centre in Latin America, which few cultural buildings worldwide can measure up to. Although it is officially named after the former President Néstor Kirchner, the building is commonly known as Ballena Azul (Blue Whale). It owes this name to its interior, whale-formed concert hall wing with an area of over 23,000 square feet that forms a central element of B4FS arquitectos' design. Its visually seamless shell made of Escale metallic fabric from GKD reflects the blue paintwork of the skirting and walls. As the new base of the national symphony orchestra, the shimmering ellipsoid really makes the new landmark of Buenos Aires stand out.
The purely symmetrical design – both wings of the building are exactly the same – reflects the strict architectural concept of the planners. A sophisticated network of freely accessible areas on the various floors connects the modern function rooms with the historical parts of the building. The architects from B4FS thus combine painstakingly restored furniture, plasterwork, ironwork and woodwork with brave architectural structures and modern construction materials. Behind the faithfully restored façade, the restored elegance of neoclassicism enters into a fascinating union with the expressiveness of the modern. Even when entering the spacious foyer, almost 5,000 restored letterboxes, tables and chairs really bring the tradition-steeped building to life. The main dome of the palace, the slated roof of which was replaced by 496 windowpanes with an integrated LED lighting system, plays a key part in this effect. This construction lights up the dome in all colors during the evening and at night.
For state visits, the lights show the colors of the guests' respective national flags. As the city's first public viewing platform, the crowning glass dome on the ninth floor also allows the Porteños (people of the port), as the people of Buenos Aires call themselves, to enjoy previously unknown views. Moreover, with three restaurants and its possible use as a function room it also offers an arena for culinary pleasure and entertainment. Alluding to the traditional chandeliers in theatres, the architects designed two glass rooms, fixed in place by Virendeel girders, which hover two levels above the stage. With an area of 2,368 square feet, this gigantic, abstract chandelier is planned as a flexibly usable space for art exhibitions of all kinds.
The real attraction of the building, the enormous Blue Whale, can be found beneath the chandelier allegory. Its curved stomach contains a concert hall with space for 1,950 spectators in the stalls and on the balconies, as well as a chamber music hall that accommodates 540 listeners. For its construction, the respective building section was gutted behind the original façade and a large steel cage set up as a supporting structure. The colossal construction has a fascinating effect thanks to its shimmering skin, which seamlessly covers the ellipsoidal body and gently reflects the blue of the surrounding walls and skirting. When choosing a flexible material that would completely encase the idiosyncratic structure, the architects opted for Escale 7 x 1 metallic fabric from GKD. This mesh can be formed in three dimensions and has already been tried and tested in a multitude of famous buildings – including Bertelsmann's "Planet m" pavilion at Expo 2000 in Hanover or the "Children's Palace" children's hospital in Guangzhou – impressively demonstrating its ability to provide completely homogeneous cladding.
For the shell of the Whale, the architects chose a customized version of the mesh with 70 millimeter-high stainless steel spirals and aluminum rods. For the cladding, which covers a total area of nearly 60,000 square feet, GKD manufactured over 1,200 individual elements that were fixed to the top and bottom of the shape-giving frame structure using fastening hooks without any visible joints or connections. The international network of the world's leading manufacturer of architectural metallic fabric proved its worth once again in the realization of this challenging project: even during the detailed planning phase GKD was able to rely on the expertise of planners from formTL from Radolfzell, who specialize in 3D structures and with whom GKD had already successfully collaborated for the projects in Hanover and Guangzhou. The elements were mounted in the former main post building in Buenos Aires by the local GKD representative office in Argentina, Gutmetal. Following the official opening by the Argentinean President Christina Fernández de Kirchner, Buenos Aires now boasts a new landmark in the form of the Centro Cultural, allowing the past, the present and the future to be experienced under one roof.
Photography courtesy of Jackie Rios and Pepe Mateos