In 1961, just two years after the reconstruction of the Pavilion of the Hexagons in Madrid’s Casa de Campo, there was another surprising breakthrough in the Spanish capital: the arrival of the pavilion that the Duchy of Luxembourg had built at the Brussels World Expo of 1958.
“Offered in advantageous conditions”,1
they affirmed the chronicles of the time. Few now know of the cohabitation during decades of two of the protagonists of that Expo58.
The Spanish pavilion, designed by José Antonio Corrales and Ramón Vázquez Molezún, abandoned since 1975; the Luxemburgish, acquired by the Chamber of Commerce of Madrid, operating in the Paseo de la Castellana as an Exhibition Center until the nineties.
In the visit to the great Belgian event, someone had to notice the remarkable exhibition capacities of the proposal of the small dukedom. Formed by two pavilions joined together by a footbridge, it had a useful area of 1,680 square meters. Of his three designers, the best known was undoubtedly Jean Prouvé, who was a necessary collaborator in Brussels of several other pavilions, among which were the one in France, the one in the town of Paris or the Hachette publishing house. Together with Prouvé, the Luxembourgers René Mailliet and Pierre Reuter were the authors of a work of simple lines. Qualified at the time as a small jewel of architecture, concentrated, modern and
“of well placed legs”,
it seemed to be a conscious example of the high cost that it involved for some countries to overcome their neighbors.2
Faced with this, the desire to show Luxembourg as an attractive destination resulted in a sober, transparent architecture, which contained in its interior references to landscapes, tourism, mining and viticulture in the country, as well as the future presence of institutions linked to the European Coal and Steel Community.
With the promotion of this last material, produced both at the national and community level, the possibilities of reusing the building could not be ignored, using a structure whose weight was around 800 tons, and which arrived in Madrid via railway after being dismantled by the Belgian company Paul Wurth.3
The report of the transfer showed huge metal pieces crossing half Madrid from the Imperial station. The images of the montage -developed between 1962 and 1963-, portrayed the building behind a sign that read “XXV años de paz”. The plans showed a rectangular lot with eighty meters of façade towards the main road.
The chosen plot was located in what today would be number 257 Paseo de la Castellana, offering space for other constructions that completed a program that tried to provide Madrid with an area dedicated to the periodic celebration of commercial and industrial events.
The architect Pascual Bravo Sanfeliu, advised by the Technical Office of Eduardo Torroja Miret, was in charge of building a complex that since 1949 Juan Abelló Pascual, the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Madrid, had been longing for.4
With this objective, perspectives, distribution and circulation of visitors were studied with attention. For example, the new visual power of the original pavilion, obtained after raising it three meters above the level of the avenue. This gave rise to the opportunity to build additional spaces in the semi-basement that reached 5,000 square meters.
In addition to this additional exhibition area, a four-storey building with a previous porch that served as the main access was added. There was special interest in that the exhibition space did not detract from that exhibited in other provincial fairs.
With a total useful area of 11,000 square meters the objective was met, without neglecting the adequacy of the building to the Madrid climate and a new function, which forced an environmental, acoustic and luminous conditioning, as well as the inclusion of complete networks of sanitation, emergency systems and fire prevention. There was no better premiere for the whole venue, germ of the current Trade Fair Institution of Madrid (IFEMA), than the French steel exhibition with which the facilities were inaugurated on October 13, 1964.
Three months earlier, the works had been blessed, with Juan Abelló thanking in his speech for the technical assistance provided by the United States Government for such an ambitious project.5 Twenty-seven years after this event, the last fair was held on the premises, with an International Exhibition dedicated to Education.6
This brief walk along the margins of the Expo58, and those proposals that have been buried in oblivion, provide sufficient rewards and refer to premises that are still relevant sixty years later: problems related to non-permanence, prefabrication, reuse of containers, rapid execution and the ability to take on open programs.7
Solutions served in crude, without makeup, without great aesthetic aspirations, with precise descriptions and without adjectives sweeteners. Impeccable answers, which in the case of the Luxembourg pavilion were metamorphosed into second chances.
Silvia Blanco Agüeira, PhD architect
Viveiro, juny 2018
1 The purchase was formalized in five million francs of the time, although this data does not appear cited in: Bravo Sanfeliu, Pascual, “Palace of Exhibitions of the Chamber of Commerce of Madrid”, TA: temas de arquitectura y urbanismo 67 (1964), page 36.
2 Tanner, Ogden, “The best at Brussels”, Architectural Forum 108 (1958), p. 86.
3 Torroja Archive, CEHOPU-CEDEX.
4 Complete speech by Juan Abelló Pascual in: “Our Exhibition Center is inaugurated”, Comercio. Revista Mensual de la Cámara de Comercio de Madrid 152 (1964), p. 12.
5 “Blessing of the works of the Exhibition Palace of the Official Chamber of Commerce”, diario ABC, July 4, 1964, p. 64.
6 Interdidac. Salón Internacional de la Educación (19-22/03/1991). “Report of activities 1991 of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Madrid”.
7 Mallo, Álvaro; Blanco, Silvia; Carballo, Francisco, “Denostada Bx´58” (Lecture given in the course Secrets of Architecture, Luis Seoane Foundation, A Coruña, May 19, 2014).