The public architecture in Madrid and in the beginning of the 21st century (I) | Antón Capitel

Madrid | Author: Pedro Lozano

We can divide the public architecture of the metropolis of Madrid of last years in several evident paragraphs. Of a side, between architectures of new implantation and rehabilitations, since the above mentioned have been, logically and for fortune, so important, or more than the first ones. Of another side, between public buildings and housing, so, since it is known well, many public promotions have existed also in the residential field, though it is not this field a properly public sector, at least from the point of view of the use. For my part, it would prefer calling “public architecture” which is of public use, and not the one that is of official promotion. And to her, to the really public one, of official promotion, or of particular promotion, it is to own that and for the most part I go away to recounting.

I am useful this way to protest about the modern and erroneous use of the language. To the official, own of the state administrations, of the level that are, there is called he now a “public”, public when it is, actually, any establishment opened the public, for example, a bar. A thing is “public” and “official” other one, as well as a thing is “deprived” and “particular” other one. So to what now there is called its “privately” is not another thing that the particular thing, as before was said well.

Caixa Forum Madrid | Author: Carles Escrig i Royo

We can observe, this way, that the field of the public architecture, which is both official and individual, has turned almost only into official, conversion that would explain, probably, the linguistic pun before commented. The certain thing is that the particular architectures that are not residential are only the offices. They have eliminated, almost, the really public architectures of particular promotion. In Madrid, and in the last years, only we can annotate the accomplishment of the “Caixa Forum” inside the particular thing, or relatively particular, on having treated itself actually about a Savings bank. It can be said, probably, that it is a question of a rehabilitation, at least in the origin, and I have to warn that, in any case, I will refer in what continues to the works which architecture I consider relevant or, at least, it deigns of discussion, and not to those that are exempt, or be more doubtful, in relation to these considerations.

Opposite to this building, small enough, we have to annotate, in the new plant and in the official promotion, to the Theatres of the Channel (Community of Madrid), the buildings of the UNED in Lavapiés (Department of Education), the Museum of the Royal Collections (National wealth), the City of the Justice (Community of Madrid), the new Conference hall (Town hall of Madrid). The three first ones have carried out, though the third party is without finishing, and both last ones, initiated scarcely, have stopped for effect of the lack of financing because of the economic crisis. To them we must add a special, already realized thing, which is the new park along the márgenes of the river Manzanares, to which one calls him “Madrid Río”.

COAM Headquarters in Madrid | Author: Gonzalo Moure

As for the rehabilitations, and besides the already mentioned Caixa Forum, one has to speak about three big accomplishments, official all of them, the extension of the Prado Museum (Department of Culture), the conversion of the former building general post office in new Town hall of the city, the transformation of the old slaughter house in center of cultural activities (both of the Town hall of Madrid) and the conversion of the ruins of San Antón’s Pious Schools in the new building of the Architects’ Official College of Madrid and of some municipal equipments.

As for the public housing, almost quite she promoted by the Town hall (EMV), and very abundant, fits to distinguish between the promotions that they entrusted to considered famous authors and of great prestige and that were simply objects of contest, but this matter, of great importance and importance, stays out of the intentions and the possible extent of this text.

Should be added, still, a great urban project already realized to a certain scale and public fact, but of that we do not know still if really it will have a future minimum: the prolongation of the Castilian one beyond his horrifying and inadequate final today.

Area in the one that will get up the project known as Operation Chamartín | Source:

I consider that the accomplishments of new plant ended or very advanced have had an architectural and urban specially high fortune, and they have favored this way to the city and to his urban and physical values. I refer to the Theatres of the Channel, realized by Juan Navarro Baldeweg, to 2 buildings for the UNED, realized by Jose Ignacio Linazasoro, and to the Museum of the Royal Collections, still in march, but very advanced, and realized for the architects Luis Moreno Mansilla (sadly eliminated the year 2012) and Emilio Tuñón.

On the Theatres of the Channel (building product of a restricted contest) they fit, probably, a few not completely architectural doubts, or, at least, it brings over of which the one who writes neither can, does not even want, to resolve. This is, if the institution makes real sense, if it can be economically supported by the Community; or if, enclosed, there are sufficient activities to justify the existence itself of this great building. I ignore the response to these matters, which are of political and administrative character, and on that I lack criterion. I hope and trust that, since it has been done, this promotion makes sense, since the doubts that in his day the Community seemed to demonstrate seemed to appear towards this direction.

Virtual reconstruction of the Theatre of the Channel. (Photo: Comunidad de Madrid)

What one can assure, for my part, is that from the urban and architectural point of view the operation is frankly positive. I believe that the urban place has remained very favored by the new presence, so much from the volumetric and visual considerations, since from the properly urban one. The place, a site so central as important, on the corner of two broad and good streets, I believe that he is grateful for the major vitality that gives him the new building of public equipment.

On the other hand, and as architecture, it is a good contribution, probably less brilliant from the figurative external aspect, though it is necessary to observe that the criterion of respect to an urban normal position, of dividing building and in corner made compatible with the volumetric freedom, seems to me to be specially successful. But, figurative and spatially, the interiors are more brilliant than the exterior, and it so much in the foyers and places of lost steps (in which very good formal qualities have been obtained by material and formal scanty means, following intelligently lessons like Aalto, Scharoun and up to Stirling) as in both principal, very different and very successful Rooms.

(To be continued…)

Antonio González-Capitel Martínez · Doctor architect · professor in ETSAM

Madrid · march 2013

Antón Capitel

Es arquitecto y catedrático de Proyectos de la Escuela de Arquitectura de Madrid, fue director de la revista Arquitectura (COAM) de 1981-86 y de 2001-09. 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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