Spain's building boom may have stalled, but Benidorm soars ever skywards. Work started at the weekend on what is to become Europe's tallest residential structure in the continent's highest-rise beach resort.
The In Tempo building, 200 metres high and with 52 floors, represents the latest upward lunge of Spain's "vertical city". The project is expected to cost €45m (£35m), and when completed in 2010, will comprise two gilded towers joined at the top by an inverted diamond motif. Sculptures in the form of flying seagulls will be suspended between the twin structures. Face-on, it resembles the number 11 and the letter M, and is a tribute to the victims of the Madrid train bombs on 11 March 2004.
From the windows of its luxury apartments (costing €6,000 per square metre) residents will enjoy an unrivalled bird's-eye view of the sand and the sea, and a unique perspective of the 325 other skyscrapers that already tower over Benidorm's three-mile beach. The resort is visited annually by up to five million holidaymakers, half of them north Europeans, mostly British.
Benidorm is already home to Europe's tallest hotel, the Gran Hotel Bali, which was completed in 2002. The construction of ever-taller skyscrapers is made possible only because of technological advances, says In Tempo's architect, Roberto Perez-Guerras, who has designed and built three other high-rise hotels in the resort. "Thanks to extremely high-quality steel and other materials, we are able to rise higher," he said at the presentation of his latest project.
Benidorm, which pioneered mass tourism in the 1950s, opted from the start to expand upwards rather than outwards to leave free for swimming pools and parks, and to offer visitors both a sea view and a short walk to the beach.
In Tempo, which is clad in plate glass, will reflect the surrounding seascape, but will not enjoy the ubiquitous balconies of other Benidorm hotels. Three apartments will occupy each floor with duplexes towards the top, as the city strives to throw off its package-tour heritage and move upmarket in pursuit of a smarter, year-round visitor.
Architects believe that vertical construction "will multiply exponentially" around the world in the coming years. "People have denigrated the Benidorm model, but time has shown that this form of urban design is the most efficient, sustainable and respectful to the environment," said Adolfo Rodriguez, creator of Benidorm's 43-storey Lugano tower, which is nearing completion. Rodriguez is currently working on a proposed hotel casino that would reach a dizzying 260 metres.
High-rise specialists distinguish between the American model of vertical construction and the European: "Benidorm follows the American model, which seeks to exploit to the full a limited and valuable terrain," says the architect Juanjo Chiner. "The European model, which is preferred in Asia, is that of the status object: buildings that represent power, the phallic symbol that in previous epochs was represented by the obelisk." Such status objects include Madrid's four gigantic skyscrapers that soar above what used to be Real Madrid's training ground. They range in height from 236 metres to 250 metres and dominate the city's skyline. Taller than the proposed In Tempo development, they will house corporate offices and several national embassies.
200 The height, in metres, of the In Tempo building
52 The number of floors in each of the two towers
45,000,000 The estimated cost, in euros, of the project