Torrevieja's white elephant goes up in flames

ONE of Torrevieja’s white elephants, Japanese architect Toyo Ito’s Relaxation Spa, suffered major fire damage.

Local press reports would have led many to believe that the ‘cigar’ or ‘shell’ had been razed to the ground and lay in ashes, however one would be surprised to find that from afar, it does not look much worse that the abandoned building that has been warping and decaying since its construction was stopped back in 2006.

Even inside, it is still a very solid structure.

In 2000, former mayor Pedro Hernandez Mateo proposed the building of the unique Relaxation Spa as part of a very ambitious and forward thinking plan of city improvements to bring tourism and investment to Torrevieja.

Many of the projects became reality including the new Harbour area, Hospital, Music Conservatory, Library and Auditorium however the ambitious and imaginative relaxation spa, never was completed because, in part, opposition parties said that the building was located in an area that could be detrimental to the environment because it was being constructed close to the Salt Lake!

Construction started in good faith, in the days when the Conservative PP held power in Madrid however, soon after the Socialist PSOE came to power under Zapatero, opponents to the project were quick to knock on his door and construction was stopped.

If construction had been allowed to continue it would have opened in 2007 with the overall idea being to revitalise the entire lakeside area, not to mention a rise in house prices and possible new hotel construction.

At present the Greenland area surrounding the structure is just wasteland, used for the occasional waste dumping and mainly dog walking.

Dog walkers Joy and Reggie said “We walk our dogs here every day and would hate to not be able to do so, but the area is very run down, has not had any money put into the infrastructure and it’s a shame that it was allowed to get into this shape in the first instance!”

Not everyone agrees, as Nancy Clarkson stated, “The thing is nothing but an eyesore and many residents who live around here will be glad to see the day when it is knocked down and taken away!”

The Town Hall is stuck in the middle. Because of the court order they are unable to do any work on the structure, other than for safety reasons, and the entire area surrounding it will probably remain as it is, because the Costas have said that nothing can be done in the area.

Reggie continued “It’s all very strange, because there are houses just over there that are built much closer to the actual salt lake that this is, and yet they are legal and this is not!”

The overall idea was to offer a unique structure, offering visitors an area comprising of three snail-shell-shaped buildings and a surrounding park area along the lakeside.

The main building, which was to be the information office and cabins, was almost completed, before construction was stopped and works on the other two buildings, open air baths that would utilize the rich mineral land of the lagunas de Torrevieja, and a restaurant, never commenced.

The structure is built of steel spirals with a wood substructure connected to these spirals. The shapes are inspired by the aesthetic sense of nature, giving new functions and meanings to the site.

Work stopped in 2006 and the building has remained abandoned and languishing unloved after being paralyzed by the Directorate General of Coasts, who said that the project ‘invaded the public domain area of the maritime lake.’

Costas opened disciplinary proceedings in December 2004, which ordered the immediate cessation of work. €1.5 million was invested jointly into the project by Torrevieja Town Hall, The Valencian Community and the PP National Government of its time.

Sadly, this investment has now literally; gone up in smoke!

The structure has suffered vandalism and been a refuge for the homeless for a number of years, and the video cameras that were positioned to provide surveillance for the zone, unfortunately have not been functioning for over a month.

The building caught fire, either through vandalism or accidentally and fire crews spent two hours putting out the flames.

Police and engineers surveyed the damage and first reports indicate that, even if it was beyond repair from before, that the new structural damage to the building will probably result in it being considered totally beyond repair or ever being used for some other options; being recycled into an information centre, meeting area, restaurant or play zone, options that will most likely never happen.

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