The Metropol Parasol in Seville nearing completion last week: ‘From some angles it is a wonderful thing, daring, inventive and impressively consistent.’ Photograph: Sergio Caro for the Observer

Oh my God, it’s an icon. How very last decade. Did the city of Seville not get the memo? Big, flashy buildings are out; hair shirts are in. Then again, building projects are slow things, especially when they have hugely ambitious and untried structural ideas. In 2004, when the Metropol Parasol project was launched, and Spain felt flusher than it does now, few were thinking it would open after the country was hit by one of the worst of the European Union’s many financial crises. As it is, like the grandiose new City of Culture of Galicia complex in Santiago de Compostela, it looks like a late work of bubble baroque.

It is undeniably arresting. Last week, as workers scrambled to finish the building and remove all the scaffolding in time for the official opening on 27 March, citizens were gawping at and debating the 30 metre-high cloud/mushrooms/parasols/waffle that had appeared in their ancient city. Two passersby, men in late middle age, expressed the poles of the argument, one saying that it was out of place, the other that the city should move with the times.

The Metropol Parasol actually is a device for revitalising the Plaza de la Encarnación, for years used as a parking lot and seen as a dead spot between more popular tourist destinations in the city. The Parasol contains a market, shops, and a podium for concerts and events. In its basement are the ruins of a Roman district, with mosaics and enough bits of wall to get a sense of what the houses were like. On the roof there is a restaurant, a viewing gallery, and a winding, undulating walkway – a sort of pedestrian rollercoaster – from which to appreciate the views gained by rising slightly above the general roofline of the city.


Rowan Moore