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Eduardo Chillida Mount Tindaya, Fuerteventura, Spain

One of the largest underground caverns ever constructed.

After years of searching for the perfect site for his sculptural vision, Eduardo Chillida, one of Spain’s most renowned sculptors, discovered Mount Tindaya on the island of Fuerteventura.

Chillida then reputedly exclaimed, "My sculpture wants this mountain, it is now time to see whether the mountain wants my sculpture" – Arup set out to determine if this was the case.

Arup was appointed to lead the technical design of the 45m x 50m x 65m cubic ‘carved space’ inside Mount Tindaya – one of the largest underground caverns ever constructed and the only one of its kind with a flat roof.

Feasibility and site investigations

The research project was approached with utmost respect for the mountain, and with the aim of protecting the surrounding environment. For this reason the project was 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 1700m 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 is fragile and has a delicate balance of flora and fauna.

Tindaya is also of archaeological significance, with the presence of ancient petroglyphs engraved on its surface, linked to similar images found on mountains in north Africa.

To protect the mountain´s fragile environment, helicopters were used extensively to transport people and materials to and from the drilling area.

Geological studies were carried out during the nesting season of the eagles living in the mountains, to ensure minimal disturbance to these protected species.

All temporary research platforms were mounted with protective rafts that collected drilling water and other waste to leave the mountain intact.

Design challenges

Mount Tindaya is impressive not only for its shape and form, but also for its hard, fractured rock, which presented 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 also discounted 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 affects on the environment and measures to mitigate these effects.

The design used advanced computer models to reproduce the unique nature of the discontinuities of the rock, and to optimise plant operations to help boost the rock to support itself.

Protecting the natural environment

The dry, semi-desert environment of Mount Tindaya is fragile and has a delicate balance of flora and fauna.

Tindaya is also of archaeological significance, with the presence of ancient petroglyphs engraved on its surface, linked to similar images found on mountains in north Africa.

To protect the mountain´s fragile environment, helicopters were used extensively to transport people and materials to and from the drilling area.

Geological studies were carried out during the nesting season of the eagles living in the mountains, to ensure minimal disturbance to these protected species.

All temporary research platforms were mounted with protective rafts that collected drilling water and other waste to leave the mountain intact.