After years of searching for the perfect site for his vision of a ‘monument to tolerance’, Eduardo Chillida, one of Spain’s most renowned sculptors, discovered Mount Tindaya on the Spanish island of Fuerteventura, off the African coast.
Chillida’s sculptural vision was for a cubic ‘carved space’ inside Mount Tindaya: at 45m x 50m x 65m, it would be one of the largest underground caverns ever constructed, and the only one of its kind with a flat roof.
Chillida is reported to have said: "my sculpture wants this mountain, it is now time to see whether the mountain wants my sculpture". Arup was engaged to assess whether it would be technically feasible to bring the artist’s vision to life.
Feasibility and site investigations
The research project was approached with utmost respect for the mountain, and with the aim of protecting the surrounding environment, and divided into three phases.
The first phase was a non-intrusive feasibility study based on technical literature research, satellite remote sensing data and laboratory tests on rock samples. A second phase of intrusive investigation proceeded, focused on samples taken from four research platforms with 1700 metre-deep bore holes.
Diamond core and in-situ permeability was investigated, and strength and stiffness tested through mechanical and geophysical techniques along with a full laboratory testing program.
Protecting the natural environment
The dry, semi-desert environment of Mount Tindaya has a delicate balance of flora and fauna. The site also has great archaeological significance, with the presence of ancient petroglyphs engraved on its surface, similar to images found on mountains in north Africa.
To protect the fragile mountain environment, only minimal and absolutely necessary site work was conducted, with essential staff and materials airlifted into place.
All temporary research platforms were mounted with protective rafts that collected drilling water and other waste to leave the mountain intact.
Mount Tindaya is impressive not only for its shape and form, but also for its hard, fractured rock, which would present a significant engineering challenge.
Chillida’s vision that the space should appear ‘carved’ from the rock ruled out the conventional design of an arched vault and suspended ceiling. The artistic requirement for the rock surface to be exposed would also discount other traditional designs.
Environmental requirements and preservation of the mountain also determined the design and construction methods applied.
The final phase, planning the execution of the design, involved carrying out a detailed study of the effects on the environment and any potential mitigation needed .
The design used advanced computer models to reproduce the unique nature of the discontinuities of the rock, and to optimise the design approach to help the rock to support itself.
The project remains unrealized as of 2023.