The eclecticism in the Spanish modern architecture. Years 20-30 and 50-60 | Antón Capitel


It can be said, without too many exaggeration, that any architecture is eclectic, and can be added also that so often reside in this condition the most important bases of his own quality. But has to be admitted equally that there are occasions, and periods, in that the above mentioned eclecticism is in the foundation itself of the architectural products that define this precise moment.

The zeal for overcoming the attitudes of the 19th century and acceding in a definitive way to the modernity, considered this one as a “Good New”, made have to the concept itself of eclecticism for an undesirable, degraded attitude, constituting for a long time something similar to an insult, to an offense. To think and to say that someone was eclectic supposed condemning, having him it brings over of his attitude and of his work a negative, unpresentable, immoral idea almost. This way it was understood by generations previous to her of whom this writes.

The notable distance that separates us already of the beginning and up to of the victory of the modern architecture, of a side, and the patience and brilliancy that we have been reaching to be able to observe the reality of an independent way and not prejuiciado, of other one, has achieved that we are capable of seeing with brightness the eclecticism that it invades, already not to any architecture, if not, and very concretely, to someone of the periods of the Spanish architecture which “pure” condition was given before for supposed, and had little less than as guarantor herself of the quality. Such they were, for example, the period of 1925-1936, that of the birth of the modern architecture in our country, so dear and up to so mitificado for his important significance. And, also, of 1950-1970, enormously estimated equally for supposing the abandon of the dark historicist period that it characterized the years of postwar period and the definitive foundation of a Spanish modern and full architecture.

Excursión Museo del Prado, Residencia de Estudiantes, 21 marzo 1921. Presentes F. García Lorca y Luis Buñuel entre otros. Foto Martín Domínguez Esteban.
Excursion Prado Museum, Students’ Residence, on March 21, 1921. Presents F. García Lorca and Luis Buñuel between others. Photo Martin Domínguez Esteban.

The modern architecture of the period 1925-36.

The modern architecture of the period 1925-36, identified by some authors like a cultural phenomenon directly related to the progressive pre-republican and republican thought, counted this way not only with the myth of the purity, but also with another not less confused pun, that of the relation between advanced modernity and progressive ideology. I will not bother in this occasion to demonstrate that the above mentioned relation did not exist any more that in certainly vague and indefinite way, and I will content with affirming that I give discounted the demonstration of which this relation was not royal by no means in a sufficiently significant way. And that, in any case, this matter does not occupy us now.

I will happen to examine, so, something that I consider to be more interesting, the nonexistence of the purity, be figurative this one or also of content; this is, the consideration and the examination of the eclectic, mixed and half-caste bases that fed to the Spanish architectures of that period. Though I will warn, undoubtedly for relief of some, that I will speak especially about the architecture of Madrid, which in very good measure represented also that of so many parts of Spain, and that I will make this way the Catalan architecture untouched, reserving for them of there, and in way similar to a luck of challenge, the fact that they are capable of explaining his architecture in those years and from now in a way luckier than up to the moment they have done.

“The rationalism of Madrid”  was a consecrated enough way of speaking about the architecture of that epoch, and even there is some good book like that qualified. But the rationalism – understanding for such own one of the architecture of Le Corbusier in his first stage; also of the works of the New German Objectivity, for example, and from any other related manifestations to these – it did not go any more than one of the ingredients than that this architecture fed, even if some of his more superficial features had been more or less dominant.

So the born rationalism of the mentioned roots, and of those others that they were complementary and related, coexisted with other imaginations, resources and very different contents, and for whose mixture and combination the architects of Madrid appeared, if not probably very conscious, if, certainly, specially capable.

There can be mentioned, at least, several sources so different as fertile and that contaminated and coexisted with the rationalism. Of a side, and first, the academicismo and his different resources of tracing, composition and language, all of them in the base of the education of the majority of the architects who acted in that epoch, and that had received those instruments, of a way or other one, in his years of School. Relatively near to the academicismo, but different good, actually, was also what we can be call a traditionalism, operatively by means of the construction learned in the historical buildings and in the popular architecture, as well as his types, dispositions and up to concrete elements, learned these things also in the School, or directly of works and of teachers and teachers. It in relation with the Spanish architecture, but to her there would be necessary to add also the influences owed to publications, to trips and to personal filiations, of the Arts and British Craft and of his equivalents German and Central European.

There were, of another side, the modern ismos not included directly in the great racionalist trunk – to which we might call the modernity by excellence-, such as the German expressionism, another fundamental trunk of the most important influence and to which we can add some other related trends, as the School of Amsterdam, defined by the disciples of Berlage and, even, for the own works of this one. (Because the possible influence of Wright‘s work, for example, that so important was in the Holland of the epoch, is not detected, at least completely, in the Spanish architecture of this period).

But to the important expressionism and to his related ones and complements it is necessary to add still another source, more figurative and superficial than another thing, but not for less influential it: it is a question of the style Art-Dèco”, whose follow-up and use was, since we know, so intensely and so ready to be mixed by anyone that they were other components.

These are the wickers, though probably there were still different some. Perhaps the mixture between academicismo and rationalism was more important – since it happened also in some other countries – since it concerned, for example, so big and complete works as those of the University City of Madrid, and of very different ways. Because there were different well the ways of projecting of Agustín Aguirre, in the Campus of Letters; of Miguel de los Santos, that of Sciences and Medicine, even different both between yes; of Pascual Bravo, in the School of Architecture; of Manuel Sánchez Arcas in the Clinical Hospital; or of Luis Lacasa in the Students’ Residence. All these works were half-caste between rationalism and academicismo, since it remains very clear in so many of them and since it has been observed already repeatedly, and also that the instruments of action were diverse. Finger to compare, for example, two small buildings, as the Faculty of Philosophy and Aguirre’s Letters and the School of Architecture of Bravo, to feel intensely the differences: completely academic mapping and fullly modern imagination in Aguirre, and very modern mapping and imaginations a little more academicians or, in any case, more succinct, in case of Bravo.

Interesting comparisons can be observed also by the big buildings; this is, if they examine, for example, the Faculty of Medicine of De los Santos, of a side, and Sánchez Arcas‘s Clinical Hospital, of other one. The Faculty of Medicine, it is an organism of tracing tardoacadémico fullly and I do not exempt of interest, and so much the composition of set that realizes with other two neighboring powers, that of Drugstore and that of Odontolgy, and the concrete, external and internal imaginations, they insist on this academicismo, of simplified character. This is, whose mixture with the modern one (with the rationalism) consists precisely of this simplification, in this purification of the classic language, which does not disappear, but that approaches very much the racionalist language.

The Clinical Hospital, on the other hand, though it has a planimetric disposition in which the properly modern thing combines with academic viciousnesses, this is done of a way that was common to the most advanced architects, to the work itself of Le Corbusier, for example. This is, that it can be said that it was as modern as possible, in this respect and in his epoch. As for the aspect and the figurative characters, nevertheless, nothing has of the language corbuseriano or of his related or next, and yes of a certain radicalism of the German ” New objectivity “, sometimes in so succinct and sober, so austere form, which gets confused with a certain academicismo. Though it is, actually, an extreme, conscious radicalism of his purism and of his sobriety.

But, in end, these mixtures between academicismo and rationalism they were very common in the epoch. Us abiding Madrid, can be added also the Foundation Rockefeller, of Lacasa and Sanchez Arcas, or the complex of the Institute School, of Arniches y Domínguez,  of another mien, but also participant of this mixture.

Next the academicismo, but different from this one, the “traditionalism” is. We can aim in this trend, and for so many things, to famous at “Flowers House”, of Secundino Zuazo, which so much has to also to certain European trends, since to Berlage‘s work and to the School of Amsterdam, and to other European different examples. Now then, in this case, the Spanish we can become more serious and more contentments, since few things were in the modern housing of that epoch so qualified as the famous apple of the neighborhood of Madrid de Arguelles. The fact of being a house constructed with walls of load of brick and of having also other things, as the covers of wood, they place the work of way decided about a traditionalist trend, but, since always, mixed. In the visual aspects and compositivos, the work is neo-academic, and not uselessly it wanted to emulate suitably to the houses of balconies of the 19th century that qualified the old town of Madrid and something of the widening. Nevertheless, there are some linguistic elements of the rationalism, since they are the terraces of the south front. And there are other many details (parabolic arches of the low ones, income of the portals) that play with a crook historicismo, sometimes neo-baroquly, so ironically as skilfully and fullly obtained. Of another side, and still, the disposition itself of the apple (that one that probably is the most important of the work), with his quadruple one was squeaking served by continuous courts, and with his great court garden opened for the streets, there supposes an urban disposition hygienist who lacks style, but that is absolutely modern. The compatibilización of this disposition with the area of an apple of the widening and with his obligations like urban volume they complete, synthetically, the very diverse ingredients of this masterpiece with an urban own attitude also of the academic nineteenth-century world and they connect with the imagination before commented.

Now then, the traditionalist works were not great, especially if we move away from Zuazo‘s figure. To complete it there might be remembered the Hospital of Toledo, of Sanchez Arcas, Lacasa and Solana, in that a mapping of academicismo modernized makes concrete with a construction and a few traditionalist very intense imaginations as such, and in whose intentions probably were present environmental questions in relation to the relatively next historical city.

The combination between expressionism and rationalism was also own of this epoch, both in many parts of Spain and in Madrid, as enough time ago has been already repeatedly observed. One has not made notice so much that the above mentioned combination, and beyond the direct thing or not of this influence, belongs neither to Spanish origin nor person from Madrid, but it comes from the attitude adopted as the great German architect Erich Mendelsohn when it decided to leave the full expressionism for the above mentioned combination, and in favour of the practical sense; or, more concretely, in favour of a more own attitude to obtain orders.

Almost the whole Mendelsohn’s work was immersed in this attitude, since they were the important office blocks for Berlin, almost all of them eliminated in the second world war, and different some. Mendelsohn combined with extraordinary skill the conceptual and plastic beginning of both trends, at first objected, and the fertility of his attitude spread very rapidly over the western world. In Madrid there are some attractive well cases (since it them is necessary in many parts of Spain) and finger to mention the acquaintance Barceló Cinema (today room “Pachá”), of Luis Gutiérrez Soto, copy so attractive as exact; and, also, the not less famous building Capitol, of Luis Martínez Feduchi and Vicente Eced, more complex in his use, size and disposition, and, also, in ingredients and influences. Since the Capitol was sensitive also to the “Art-Dèco” style in many of his decorative elements, and he gathered here an American influence, since it has been also, and naturally, noticed well. But even one has to speak in this complex building of the lessons learned in the academic and eclectic Spanish architectures to the being capable of arranging a building as respectfully urban as figuratively so succeeded in his paper of singular building, and to do it serving with extraordinary precision the difficulty of adapting to such an irregular area.

Other things stay, certainly. The union between rationalism and Art-Dèco, without the intervention of the expressionism, remained present, for example, in the missing person Olavide Market, of the architect Javier Ferrero, author also of an attractive combination between an intense “structuralism” (relative both of the academicismo and of the rationalism) and the Art-Dèco in the viaduct of Madrid of Bailén’s street.

The intervention of the engineering generated also other combinations, since it is the case of the brilliant Zarzuela Racetrack, in which Eduardo Torroja‘s presence originated an attraction “structuralism”, at last inevitable relative of the expressionism, but that it was combined also by the architects of the set, Arniches and Domínguez, with a position and an attitude that was inspiring mostly by the admired “popular architecture”.

Arniches and Domínguez did also in Madrid the Misses’ known Residence of the corner between the Miguel Ángel street and Martínez Campos street. It might be said that in her the rationalism shines exclusively, moderated, but pure. But this, though intense good, it is not completely true. The form in which the building pliega before the angle of the streets, the existence of the bevel and such a different behavior of the fronts to the street and to the garden they speak also about the influence of the urban behavior of the architecture of the eclectic academycism.

I am not going to insist. It is enough to understand the half-caste condition of the Spanish architecture of that epoch, the wealth of his references and the skill opened in the use of these. Perhaps the examination of other cases in other western cultures, related enough all of them, does not show very different situations.

El eclecticismo en la arquitectura española moderna. Años 20-30 y 50-60 Antón Capitel

1950s and 1960s.

Let’s go now a 50s and 60s, and the major abundance of works in this epoch will be going to try a major synthesis.

Well it is true that the own positions of the 40s, in what it does at least the young generation, already were dyed of eclecticism, consistent in harmonizing the academicismo practised by his major ones, and taught in the Schools, with the positions that the young persons were guessing in that closed Spain. Finger to mention for it Fisac‘s works for the Top Advice of Scientific Investigations, or, especially, the National Delegation of Unions, of Cabrero andy Aburto, projected and realized between the end and the beginning of two decades, and that so faithfully represents a traditional position – but not exactly academic – in relation with the accession of the building in the important urban enclave that occupies and, of another side, the brilliant follow-up of a modern imagination “metaphysics” inspired by some of the Italian works of the epoch.

Beyond these years there took place the full victory of modern, free manners already of traditional or academic pollutions. But, since so often it has been observed, in Spain – and since it happened equally in the whole western world – there took place also the victory of the “International Style”, understood as the best architectural practice of the times and the modern nations, simultaneously with an answer or review of the same one, the organic one, which had protagonists as prestigious as the northern, presided architects nothing less than for Alvar Aalto, or so significant as the Italian architects of the generation of the unsuccessful Terragni, who were practising what they were called the “neo-realism” or who he supposed the theory of the “preexistences environmental”.

This way, so. In the same way that Aalto was constructing the Town hall of Säynatsälo, traditionalist and modern simultaneously (and that Jacobsen was integrating in the rationalism the sloping covers, that Utzon was demonstrating that the houses court could be modern, that Ridolfi and Quaroni were proclaiming in the Tiburtino a contemporary popularismo, or that the Milanese and Venetian architects were testing modern offers compatible with the historical cities), a generation younger than the northern one and that the Italian, was testing in Spain an incorporation to the full modernity that, probably for the innovation, for the hurry and for the certain dazzle that the same fact supposed, could not stop mind in the exact nature of the instruments that it was using.

Already De la Sota  – as Fisac, since Cabrero – it had been voluntarily eclectic in the works of the National Institute of Settling, compromised with the use of traditional criteria and planimetric modern instruments, responsible for a mixed language, not for less brilliant it. But later, initiated the fullly modern epoch, it was of the authors who introduced before the organic pollutions of the rationalism, since Doctor was proving the missing house in the street Maple, in Madrid, between other works. Also Coderch had been already a racionalist half unformalist half in the brilliant tenement in the Barceloneta. Paradoxically, Of the Jack it turned later into the medical instructor and the most flushed defender of a purist rationalism who was, nevertheless and perhaps to his sorrow, also slightly eclectic.

There were others intense and important defenders of the pure modernity, since it was Sáenz de Oíza, initially of his career, and in a logical response before the practice of the official neighborhoods of economic housings. But already in the White City in Alcudia appeared as a revisionist, in this case near to those of the Team X, having in the later case of White Towers a real eclectic explosion, which mixes very brilliantly positions corbuserianas and wrightianas with own others of the late organicismo of Utzon or of Saarinen.

Fisac, once left the juvenile position of the 40s, was almost always an architect who was mixing voluntarily the rationalism and the organicismo, sometimes integrating them (since it was, for example, in the churches) and in other occasions superposing them, since in the brilliant case of the Hydrographic Center of the river Manzanares, in Madrid.

But probably the most emblematic architects of this generation as for a mixed and intermediate practice between rationalism and organicismo were Corrales and Molezún, though it was not any more than for his recognized masterpiece of the Spanish Pavilion for the Expo of Brussels of 1958. Purely modern, racionalist beginning, since it was that of the modular repetition and the indefinite growth, the opened form, as well as the own figurative condition, joined with the hexagonal, natural mesh or cristalográfica, but to the end net organicista, and with the identity between space and resistant structure, derivative in direct form of the architecture of the second Wright.

Might we think that these mixtures – chance ignoramuses of a strong opposition between rationalism and organicismo as opposite architectures – it was a ballast that harmed the Spanish architecture of those years?

This way an illustrious architect and critical Spanish was thinking it already enough time ago, identifying with brilliancy the certain one lacking in intellectual criterion in the examination of his own instruments on the part of the designers, but concluding with this recognition a certain lack of quality of his productions. The one who writes does not think that this is like that and, beyond the conscience or not of the authors it brings over of his instruments of project, it would be necessary to say that such mixtures and eclectic incorporations favored and enriched the Spanish architecture produced in those years (under the extensive stage of the military dictatorship), and that they formed a part, with the purist architectures and with others, of a very rich and interesting panorama, especially for diversified.

Generations later to this first promotion of postwar period continued with a practice of the organic architecture that was, for his own nature, an eclectic architecture in all that it was incorporating inevitably racionalist beginning. The generation of Cano Lasso, of Carvajal and of Alas y Casariego they presented also eclectic profiles, since it could not be differently, but the clearest position took place from the work of Antonio Fernandez Alba and of the conscious practice of an organicismo who was always eclectic, since it had always in his base the rationalism. And this one could be a cigar, or, at least, try it. But the organicismo not.

This way, Fernández Alba, in the Convent of the Roll in Salamanca practised a combination between traditionalism and modernity as intense as white of egg, which it did also, with different resources, in the College Monfort in Loeches and in some other works. The Peña Ganchegui´s accomplishments added to a few racionalist bases always inevitably implicit in anyone that you were the work of this epoch a few criteria extracted of the vernacular and traditional architecture. Moneo had a very brilliant work, unfortunately missing, the house Gómez Acebo in the Moral, specially eclectic and with refined and mixed resources.  And up to Fernando Higueras, who had wanted to practise an architecture absolutely exempt from racionalist pollutions, it had to conform what was an inevitable eclecticism.

Had Spanish architecture been better if it had managed to get away itself from an eclecticism that, conscious or unconsciously, always was practised?

Probably not, and finger to examine many of the works here mentioned, and different great not alluded, to verify that the eclectic thing was almost always a wealth, of forms and of contents.

So, perhaps is not architecture eclectic for his own nature?

I tend to believe that yes, and even more in these times already so late, in that it turns out to be almost impossible, and up to slightly opportunely, to avoid certain pollutions.

Antonio González-Capitel Martínez · PhD architect · Professor in ETSAM
Madrid · march 2016

Antón Capitel
Es arquitecto y catedrático de Proyectos de la Escuela de Arquitectura de Madrid, fue director de la revista Arquitectura (COAM) de 1981 a 1986 y de 2001 a 2009. Historiador, ensayista y crítico, ha publicado numerosos artículos en revistas españolas y extranjeras sobre arquitectura española e internacional. Entre sus libros destacan diferentes monografías sobre arquitectos.
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