In Seville, Lawsuits Threaten to Halt Zaha Hadid Project

September 1, 2009

By David Cohn

The completion of Zaha Hadid's Central Library for the University of Seville is threatened by a court decision that declares the urban plan permitting its construction illegal. The competition-winning design of 2006 has been under construction since last October.

The library is being constructed in the Prado de San Sebastián Park, in Seville, Spain. A lawsuit threatens to halt the project.
Image courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects
The library is being constructed in the Prado de San Sebastián Park, in Seville, Spain. A lawsuit threatens to halt the project.
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The $30 million building is sited in the 12-acre Prado de San Sebastián Park, created in 1994 on a portion of the grounds of the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. In 2006, the city modified its urban plan to allow the library to be built there. 

Seville's historic Tobacco Factory, one of the university’s main buildings, sits one side of the park. Hadid's 90,000-square-foot project stands on the opposite side, on a 42,000-square-foot site covering 8 percent of the park. According to the university’s vice rector for facilities, Professor Antonio Ramirez de Arellano, “it's a garden that sees very little use, in an area with more gardens than any other in the city. And this project will bring it to life.”

Hadid’s project architect, Sophie Le Bienvenu, explains that the building "lifts off the ground, so that the gardens extend under it." She points out that it will be open to the general public. “It's an addition to the park that promotes the city’s cultural life,” she says. “The park will still be there, and people will be able to enjoy it more.”

Determined to keep the park intact, an association of neighbors sued the university and the City of Seville in 2006. The High Court of Andalusia ruled in their favor, declaring that the library violates the intentions of the city's original urban plan of 1987. In their decision, the judges wrote: “One of Seville's great urban conquests (is) the maintenance of the Prado as a great open space for all."

Despite the ruling, construction of the Hadid building has proceeded.  The university, together with the city and the regional government of Andalusia, have moved to appeal the decision in Spain’s Supreme Court. Ramirez de Arellano maintains that the judges “exceeded their competence” in the decision, interfering in the city's legitimate authority to control its urban planning.

At this time, the Andalusia Court has permitted construction to continue. Ramirez de Arellano expects the neighborhood association will ask the judges to halt construction until a final decision is handed down, a motion that the university and its allies say they will fight. 

Update: On July 28, the court ordered a halt in construction pending the final decision of the higher court.

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