a world heritage site and its modern building

 This post was initially published at This Big City

Once upon a time, a contemporary building and an old city became friends. They were the Guggenheim Museum and Bilbao. Though this blog post isn’t their story, it is very similar.

Conversations are often had between architects and planners on how to best design for construction, the environment, and a pleasing aesthetic. However, we sometimes forget to discuss two of the most important components – historical preservation and people. A development that succeeds in finding the right balance between all components of planning and design can become an appreciated piece of art, whether we are planting decorative trees, swirling new walkways, asphalting new bikeways, or building a contemporary construction.

This is a true story of a successful contemporary piece – the Toletvm Chillout – within the old urban fabric of Toledo, Spain.

The rich and unique historical characteristics of Toledo are obvious in its built environment. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is perhaps one of the ultimate destinations for history devotees; with every step, it becomes almost impossible to resist the authenticity of the stonewalls, strong facades, and the elephantine dimensions of its castles, cathedrals, and churches. Although modern architecture has taken over some of the ancient interiors of old churches to create new gathering areas, the exterior of almost all buildings throughout the town are historic and relatively consistent in structure. However, before reaching this historical destination, one might come across the town’s newest visitor center – the Toletvm Chillout.

Photo courtesy of Dani Martín

Toletvm [toe-lee-tum] is perhaps the most contemporary piece of architecture within the historical urban setting of Toledo. The rectangular structure, tilted roof, and wide windows of the building are very abstract compared to the consecutive but colorful two story homes, castles, and narrow urban alleys of this town. Yet this difference is deliberate. Toletvm was built to provide something new for Toledo, a modern gathering area and welcome center for residents and visitors, something it has done remarkably well.

There are various reasons as to why this contemporary building has been a success in Toledo. Toletvm Chillout lives up to its title by offering a mellow atmosphere with a brilliant modern interior, while providing a unique view of the historic Toledo from the balcony. The building’s location was chosen wisely, situated close enough to Toledo’s centre for convenience yet far enough away to avoid distracting from the historical beauty of the town. The contemporary design elements go beyond the building itself, with fun-shaped trees, an abstract version of the town’s official mascot, and a unique marble circle directly in front of the building. The building has also brought economic benefits to the town, all while preserving its historical characteristics.

The only nullifying aspect of Toletvm Chillout is the position it has been placed in. At its current angle, the building overrides any access and view of a church directly behind it. While the historical impact is limited due to the age of the church in question, a slight change of the angle of this building, the view of Toledo would not change; however, it would provide access and a view to the church directly behind it.

Ultimately, the construction of Toletvm Chill Out –including its material, shape, location, and interior- has been a great addition to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, primarily based on its consideration of the built environment, the people, and most importantly the unique characteristics of Toledo. Though this building offers a different perspective of Toledo, it does so gracefully by adding modern elements to the town’s historical characteristics without disturbing them. Furthermore, Toletvm Chill Out provides the public their own million dollar view of the ultimate historic town in a tasteful modern atmosphere.