Lorenzo and the Waves (Santander Marine Terminal, Spain)

Situated at the southern end of Brittany Ferries’ V-shaped Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth ferry route, Santander Marine Terminal provides an interesting contrast with those at  the British ports, and there’s a lot to like about it. From the point of view of most passengers, perhaps its biggest selling point is its location in the heart of Santander.

From the terminal, there’s just a pedestrian crossing between you and the shops and sights of Santander city centre. It’s possible to get out of the terminal, jog up to Carrefour (they have those in Spain now) to buy some cheap Spanish sherry and gin, jog back down to the harbourside, buy and eat an ice-cream and get back into the terminal, in about 45 minutes. I recently carried out some empirical research to confirm it.

By contrast, Portsmouth International Ferry Port is some way from Portsmouth city centre. And the least said about Plymouth the better. Suffice to say it’s not the most glamorous ferry terminal you’ll come across, and it has a very annoying footbridge for foot passengers. As you leave the ship, the rickety footbridge touches down on the near side of the traffic lanes coming off the ferry rather than continuing over the traffic before dropping down to the ground. As a result, you have to cross the road and fight the traffic in order to get into the terminal. And it’s also a long way from Plymouth city centre even when you do reach the terminal building.

Those with an interest in transport architecture will, however, be more interested in the ferry terminal building itself at Santander. Designed by Cantabrian architect Ricardo Lorenzo García, it is an unusual and very distinctive building, unlike any other port facility I’ve ever come across. It was completed in 1971.

Santander Marine Terminal, with the flagpole support towards the left. Photo by L’irlandés [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons

Its glass walls nod towards the International Style, but its most immediately notable feature is a distinctive roof. Here, two large concrete sections curve upwards, immediately bringing to mind the waves on the sea just beyond the terminal building. A third concrete element at the northern end of the building seems purely decorative, a sculptural bracket for several flagpoles. If you’re desperate to categorise it amongst other buildings, which isn’t easy, I’d suggest there’s something of Niemeyer about this part of the terminal.

Where the walls aren’t glass, they are finished in brown brick, one of Lorenzo’s favourite materials. And he has such fun with it too. The north end of the building contains various offices, so there isn’t the need for the glass walls that illuminate the main passenger waiting area. Here, Lorenzo formed squares and quarter-circles from layers of brickwork, stepping back to create unusual depth. I also really like the 1970s typeface used for the “Estación Marítima” signage, something similar to Microgramma Bold Extended, and as such reminiscent of several Gerry Anderson TV series, on a building which looks like it could also have featured in one.

Santander Marine Terminal. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this Flickr album

Inside the terminal, brown bricks are again made to form embossed geometric patterns on a startling feature wall.

Inside Santander Marine Terminal. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this Flickr album

Above, the curved roof elements result in a curved ceiling, with high-level glazing making the ceilings float above the waiting room below. The horizontal glazing bars are staggered, in a brickwork pattern, which lends real character to the building. Doors have porthole windows, a suitable and rather charming touch of the maritime.

The interior of the building was refurbished in the early 2000s, and it is from this period that the current Muñorrodero stone and travertine marble finishes date. There was some rearrangement of the internal spaces during the process, and I wonder if it might have been during that refurbishment that a small courtyard garden, visible through a glass wall from the waiting area, was inserted into a lightwell in the middle of the building. The refurbishment also saw access to the flat terraced areas of roof, previously available to the public, removed.

Inside Santander Marine Terminal. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this Flickr album

You’ll notice from the exterior photo above that the building is currently seeing another major set of works. Announced in 2016 (see here) and expected to be complete before the end of 2017, it’s no great surprise to find that the works are still underway in late 2018. They are focussing on improvements to the areas immediately surrounding the terminal, improving the quality of the public realm, and enhancing drop off facilities for bus and coaches. The works are now due to be completed in November (see here). When first announced, additional enhancements were planned to revitalise the terminal building, which is only open when ships are arriving or departing. These would see access to the roof terrace reinstated, where a “chill out” area would be built, and the provision of a much improved tourist information office. I’m not absolutely sure whether this element of the works is still planned, but I’d certainly like to get up on the roof of this extraordinary building next time I’m in Santander.

The idiosyncratic design of the terminal, and lack of anything that could really be described as similar elsewhere in the transport world, can partly be explained by the fact that Lorenzo’s output was so geographically focussed on Santander. Having completed his architectural training in Barcelona, Lorenzo returned to Cantabria and undertook the majority of his work in Santander, transforming it in the process. Working in the Expressionist and Organicist styles of architecture, yet with “winks in the international style” (the words of the College of Architects of Cantabria), Lorenzo’s buildings are highly distinctive. While they include the large areas of glass and the horizontal elements which mark out many International Style buildings (remember the pavilions of Mies van der Rohe? (The Beauty of Transport 22 August 2018)), Lorenzo was fascinated by curved forms of Expressionism and Organicism too, and he combined them all to significantly impact on the way Santander looks today.

Inside Santander Marine Terminal. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this Flickr album

The Marine Terminal is just one of many Lorenzo buildings which enhance Santander and which are almost shockingly different from the sort of thing you might expect from 1960s and 70s city buildings. The Engineering College building in northern Santander, for instance, looks like it was based on stacks oyster shells.

It’s big but not Brutalist, modern but not Moderne, and curvy but not Postmodern. The same applies to most of Lorenzo’s work. There’s a nice blog on some of his other notable Santander buildings, here. In essence, Lorenzo was a bit of a one-off, and his Maritime Terminal is too.

How to find Santander Marine Terminal

Click here for The Beauty of Transport‘s map

Bibliography and Further Reading

College of Architects of Cantabria’s website of the built heritage of Cantabria, here

Europa Press article on the rebuilding of the urban area around the marine terminal (March 2018), here

2 thoughts on “Lorenzo and the Waves (Santander Marine Terminal, Spain)

  1. And talking of TV series and ferries, wasn’t there one called “Triangle” about precisely the same kind of V-shaped route as the Santander – Portsmouth – Plymouth one you write of ?

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