There are so many reasons to love the bus station in Casar de Cáceres in western Spain.
Firstly, it’s not like any other bus station you’ve ever seen. A swirling ribbon of concrete, it curves in and over itself to create an enclosed waiting room and a sheltered area for buses to stop. There’s a distant similarity with the Amazing Whale Jaw bus station in the Netherlands, but otherwise it’s not like anything else I’ve come across in the field of transport infrastructure. While the Amazing Whale Jaw is all soft curves and finishes, the bus station at Casar de Cáceres is a harder thing altogether. Its edges are sharper, and it’s finished in rough, shuttered concrete. Many modern buildings use the unvarying finish of fair-faced concrete, but architect Justo García Rubio has gone for something that relates to the rough renders of local vernacular architecture. It was completed in 2004, and is perhaps the most dramatic of the ribbon-like structures Garcia has designed for several of his buildings.
Secondly, as a piece of architecture it improves the urban environment of Casar de Cáceres. Even if you don’t happen to like it, you can’t fault its ambition. It provides visual interest and draws attention to local bus services, which is always a good thing. According to this website, the improvement isn’t even purely visual. The shape of the bus station funnels exhaust fumes from buses away from an adjacent school, so it provides local environmental benefits to the schoolchildren.
Thirdly, it shows the extraordinary versatility of concrete as a building material. Next time someone mutters about Brutal, rectilinear, sharp-cornered concrete buildings, show them this curvaceous wonder.
Fourthly, it contains a bar within the glass-walled waiting room. The standard food offering at most British bus stations will comprise one of the following:
- A greasy spoon cafe;
- A newsagent selling overpriced crisps, chocolate bars and fizzy drinks;
- Vending machines selling crisps, chocolate bars and fizzy drinks at even higher prices;
- Nothing at all.
Meanwhile, I bet the bar at Casar de Cáceres bus station serves tapas, and olives, and those bits of nice bread you dunk into bowls of olive oil, and you can sit there on a hot summer’s evening being very civilised. Jealous much, me? You bet.
Fifthly, the bus station looks like a Möbius strip, a topographically complicated object which looks like a loop of ribbon but on closer inspection turns out to have only a single side. If you could scale up a Möbius strip, you could drive a bus along it for ages and ages and ages and never get to the end. It’s an allusion that appeals because I’ve been on a number of bus journeys just like that.
Sixthly, if a Möbius strip isn’t what springs to mind when you see the bus station, it’s probably instead the twirling ribbons of the rhythmic gymnastics ribbon event. Capturing that artistry and movement in a building is pretty special.
Seventhly and finally, what really impresses me about the bus station is that it is where it is. Casar de Cáceres has a population of a little under 5,000. According to Wikipedia (yes, I know, but I can’t find the original results in the Spanish census) in 2005, a year after the bus station was built, it had a population of 4,848. Even allowing for subsequent growth we’re still talking about a small town. Yet somehow it has got itself one of the most unusual and distinctive bus stations in Europe. I went off to have a look for a similar-sized town in Britain. Thanks to this website, which ranks the populations of towns according to the 2011 UK census, I alighted upon Midhurst, West Sussex – population 4,914.
I know Midhurst quite well because it isn’t too far from where I live. It also has a ‘bus station’, which I’ve had to use on occasion. However, a greater contrast with the drama and imagination on display in Casar de Cáceres would be hard to find. Behold the wonder of Midhurst bus station:
Two tiny shelters and a couple of toilets built into the office building behind are all that’s on offer. There are no tapas here, no refreshments at all in fact (i.e. option 4 from the British bus station vending offer detailed above) unless you wander into town, potentially missing your bus as you do so. There’s precious little shelter – it’s fine on a sunny day like the one in the photo above, but I can tell you those shelters are no fun at all on a cold, windy day.
There’s no drama here, no excitement, nothing that says the town is proud of its public transport offer. García Rubio says that architecture has a public obligation (see here), an obligation that Midhurst bus station seems to have overlooked, although to be fair there’s precious little actual architecture to be found. Yet it’s unfair to single out Midhurst. In fact, its bus station is a typical representative of the confusion in Britain over what a bus station actually is, a topic we’ll return to next week.
Further Reading and Bibliography
Justo García Rubio’s project page for the bus station, here (good on pictures, a bit light on explanatory text)
A good write up on the project from local authors more sensible than me, here
…and as usual, anything linked to in the text above