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

Memoria de Madrid. Construcción del tercer tramo de gran vía en 1929 y en la actualidad | Fuente:
Memory of Madrid. Construction of the third section of the great road in 1929 | Source:

The third section, descendant, as if referring to the most hurried new times, was made as we said from the thirties to the fifties; that is, leaving the terrible civil war behind. The Gran Vía, unfinished, contemplated and suffered the bombings of the Franco military from the Casa de Campo, and those of German aircraft, and the Telefonica building, still recent, suffered by its height the terrible wounds of the fratricidal war. Today nothing remembers, not even a sign, the dramatic and criminal strife, as if dissimulation could replace oblivion.

A still eclectic will, but to a great extent already renewed – that is, in which the influence of modern architecture was already felt quite strongly – built this third section mostly, with many interesting works from the 30s. the last ones, the building of the Coliseum cinema (of houses and with a great cinema, arqtos Casto Fernández Shaw and Pedro Muguruza, 1931-33) closed with great formal and urban brilliance the section that the Capitol, its strictly contemporary building, had begun, and left testimony of the eclectic but good modern architecture that had taken place in the republican stage. With its facade starring the emphatic vertical expression of the structure, the Coliseum building evoked the great American cities and helped adequately characterize the avenue.

Among them, all kinds of things; many of them, small buildings and between medians, the most significant, and those that form an indecisive architectural world, that mix academic and rationalist resources. On other occasions, very different things, such as the great operation of “Francoist” architecture made by the brothers Joaquín and Julián Otamendi Machimbarrena, in the building that was known as “Los sótanos”, which houses the Lope de Vega cinema (today Theater) and occupying a large block (1944-49). On its immense front we can clearly see the effort of a stressed equilibrium – perhaps something ridiculous – between the intent to conserve prewar languages and the forced mixture with a very unconvincing neo-historicist vocabulary, especially for its own authors, what is transparent in remarkable way.

The Otamendi also built the two great final “monsters”, the so-called “Edificio España” (1947-53) and the so-called “Tower of Madrid” (50’s), new emulations of American cities, this time not too qualified and quite exaggerated, out of scale. So out of scale that both have had problems of survival. When these lines are written, the building “Spain” is closed, it is Chinese property and is threatened to be reformed by the British architect Foster, the latter threatens that who writes it seems probably the worst of all. These two old operations are testimony both of the provincialism of the post-war period, trying in vain to make Madrid a great city, and the birth of land speculation as a very important business, a substitute for true industry, which was born and prospered with the unfortunate military dictatorship, so clumsy and so long, and that later became one of the economic activities more typical of our country, which coexisted with the development of democracy, with the disastrous results that we have already proven in the last century. following.

The city is a mechanism and a territory of economic speculation, of course, but not necessarily fierce or as unfortunate as we have lived. We still have the Gran Vía as a very complete and very complex testimony, where the city as a business instrument has been compensated most of the time with the birth of an urban and architectural quality more than remarkable.

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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