The Gran Vía of Madrid. Brief critical biography of a great street (IV) | Antón Capitel

La foto de la semana: Obras en la Plaza de Callao (construcción del segundo tramo de la Gran Vía), años veinte | Fuente: edicioneslalibreria
Works in th Callao Square, twenties | Source: edicioneslalibreria

At the end of the second section and beginning of the third there was a high-interest spatial and formal episode, the Plaza del Callao, which can also be considered as a fourth act” of the total “theater” that Gran Vía supposes. Or if you prefer, and because of its uniqueness, a theater of your own. An intense and independent scene, spatially punctual in this case being a square.

There-and counting on time-there was an intense scene that began with some very important characters. The first was the Palacio de la Prensa (Arch. Pedro Muguruza, 1924-28), in a more or less neo-Baroque style, but late, not related to the buildings of the first section, and yes, and much, with the metropolitan intentions and the evocation of buildings in height. Muguruza’s stays in the United States were not, of course, foreign to these intentions, which we had already highlighted in more general terms.

But the second character, the Capitol building (or Carrión, has two names, Arch. Luis Martínez Feduchi and Vicente Eced y Eced, 1931-33), although it also links to America, at least through what it has of decoration with the style “Art-Dèco”, it is related mainly with the German expressionism, and, very concretely, with the work of Mendelshon, when this influential architect decided to soften the expressionism with the features and vocabulary of rationalism. This allowed him to practice a very attractive and practical architecture, which earned him important works, on the one hand, and also the exercise of an important international influence, on the other. Probably one of the most fortunate works in the world within the environment of this influence was precisely this Capitol building, won by Feduchi and Eced in a restricted contest (which was also presented by Muguruza and Gutiérrez Soto) and built in a place where its An elaborate formal proposal serves as an image for Gran Vía itself, offering itself as a perspective fund for the second section, the most important for its situation and its horizontality.

La plaza del Callao y el edificio del Palacio de la Prensa en construcción | Fuente:
The Plaza del Callao and the building of the Palacio de la Prensa under construction, 1927 | Source: memoriademadrid

It is very remarkable for the two mentioned buildings, true protagonists of the square, the skillful handling of the different scales and characters they faced there. In the Palacio de la Prensa there are three: the building is presented in front of the square in the form of a tower, whose configuration seems autonomous, although it is not, to the third section of the avenue with a building of medium and continuous scale, and part of behind, the old town, with the smaller scale that the blind volume of the cinema allows. In the Capitol there are only two scales or characters, but also very clear and well resolved: the tower scale, equally autonomous only in appearance, explicit in the square and in intense dialogue with the Palace of the Press, and enormously active in the background of perspective cited above. The second scale, also parallel to that of the Palacio de la Prensa, is the most continuous, of medium and horizontal height of the slightly descending development of the third section of the avenue. Both the prominence of both buildings in the square and the skillful handling of the different scales mentioned make these copies, and their dialogue, one of the most intense and successful episodes of this great stage.

The rest of the buildings of the square, and from this same period or earlier, are only complementary. One could highlight, if anything, the building of the Callao cinema (architect Luis Gutiérrez Soto, 1926-27) and this because of its specialized dedication – a building that is only a cinema – and because of the dome with which it was proposed to enter into dialogue both with the oldest buildings and with the two great future protagonists, that seemed to guess.

The other unique buildings are modern. The one that is today of the FNAC was the one of “Galerías Preciados” (also of Luis Gutiérrez Soto, realized after the civil war -40 years and increased later of height -50 years-, today it appears relatively reformed for its new use). Its neutrality of abstract skyscraper completes well the square when establishing a new character in smooth dialogue with the two previous towers. Where today is “El Corte Inglés” (which was also “Galerías Preciados”, two commercial institutions that were very important for the city, the second one already disappeared) was first the “Hotel Florida” (Arch. Antonio Palacios, which was a reference important for the Cuban-Spaniards returned to the metropolis and who visited the capital), demolished to give rise to the expansion of “Galerías Preciados” (archives Antonio Perpiñá and Luis Iglesias, 1964-68). With these contributions, more modern and of good quality, a very important scene has been renewed and completed, so much so that it can be said that it is by itself a synthesis, and, thus, the true protagonist of the great avenue.

Antonio González-Capitel Martínez · PhD architect · professor at ETSAM
Madrid · january 2016


– 100 años de Gran Vía. El Mundo.

– Gran Vía. Memoria de Madrid.

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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