Designed and built by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira between 1988 and 1993, the CGAC is located in one of the most sensitive and evocative monument areas of Santiago de Compostela, within the boundaries of the historical centre, very close to the convent and church of San Domingos de Bonaval.
The building, which is defined by its dialogue with the history of the city, reflects the admiration that the architect had for rationalist principles and the Modern Movement. Its lines, the light and volumes combine and give way to a stark and sober architecture that connects with the Galician tradition by making use of its building material par excellence: granite stone, used both in the exterior walls as in the building’s roof.
As a matter of fact, Álvaro Siza chose to present the centre’s blind facade as a high granite wall that delimits the grounds of the convent, thus enclosing the corner of Caramoniña Street, a beautiful and ancient road that rises uphill and that today has fallen into disuse.
The two main bodies of the church complex, the church and cloister, form a right angle with their respective main façades that face the public space: the front of the CGAC decidedly encloses these premises, creating a kind of square where the main entrances to the three buildings are located.
Another significant element of the project is the convent’s ancient orchard, recovered and rehabilitated by Álvaro Siza in collaboration with the Galician architect and landscaper Isabel Aguirre. This garden is made up of a number of non parallel downward sloping platforms that lead to the CGAC and that function as one of the building’s organising elements, by acting as the axis on which the spaces are articulated. From this axis, the building is split into two large blocks: a compact one consisting of the exhibition halls and the storage areas, which are part of the garden’s structure, and another that faces the street, where the offices, the library and the auditorium are located. Between the two a central triangular shaped space is created, that simultaneously operates as a vestibule and exhibition hall.
Apart from this, the development scheme is canonical: three floors, a basement and two upper floors; a central corridor that separates the exhibition spaces from those intended for other services, and that is meant for public use on the floors with exhibition rooms; and finally a terrace that is open to the city’s landscape and that was originally conceived as a sculpture garden.