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Emmett Zeifman Travel Blog

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    Madrid

    emmettzeifman Jul 13 '10 0

    Between Italy and Spain a two-day pit-stop in Lyon to visit La Tourette, the building I most wanted to see in the world. It is in the midst of restoration, much of it under scaffolding. The restored plaster is incredibly white.

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    Over the past couple of days in Madrid I somewhat inadvertently saw a number of the most exciting works of the 1960s and early 1970s that make expressive use of concrete. Derivations of Brutalism do not seem to have been the default mode of architecture in Madrid in this period as they were in other cities. However, there are many projects that touch on the full aesthetic range of concrete as developed in the late modernist architectures of the 1960s.

    The Center for Artistic Restoration (1961/65), by Fernando Higueras and Antonio Miró, is among the many notable campus buildings that sits in the vast expanse of the Ciudad Universitaria on the western edge of Madrid. It is one of the clearest examples of an interest in Italian architectural positions within the increasingly open academic discourse of the 1960s that saw influential visits from Bruno Zevi, Gio Ponti, and others. Here, Higueras and Miró work in the organic and structurally expressive mode, a counterpoint to the many significant works of the Francoist period that draw from the rationalist/classicist lineage. Unfortunately it too is currently being restored. I hope to be able to get in later this week.

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    Just a few hundred meters away (and approximately a decade later) is the Faculty of Information Sciences (1971) by José María Laguna and Juan Castañón. The building is one of the most radically contemporary for its period that I've seen in Madrid, with no recourse to classicism, tectonic expression, or the vernacular. It is organized around three courtyards, one internal, but not occupied and open to the elements, one fully internal and lit by two massive skylights, and one external that can serve as an amphitheatre. In contrast to the expressivness of the previous building, this work develops out of an emphasis on circulation, functionality, and program.

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    Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza´s Torres Blancas (1961--only one of the planned towers was completed, and not in the original white) stands next to the main route into the city center from Barajas airport. It recently starred in Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control, which I've unfortunately yet to see. Where the organicism of the Center for Artistic Restoration is in its skeletal form, the Torres Blancas is the product of an aggregation of cylinders, somewhere between Frank Lloyd Wright and the Metabolists. Of particular note are the deep crevices that are produced between cylinders and the variety of window treatments. The development of screens and facades is central to the architectural exploration of the period and is a subject to which I´ll return. Incidentally, the young Rafael Moneo is credited with contributing to both projects, interesting given that he is associated much more with the other side of the post-war Italian discourse. Gabriel Ruiz Cabrero, in The Modern in Spain, in fact credits Moneo for shifting Sáenz de Oiza´s work from Corbusier to Wright.

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    Happened upon almost by accident, Cecilio Sánchez-Robles' Church of Our Lady of the Rosary (1967) in the Salamanca neighbourhood is the most (late) Corbusian project I've seen. Split down the middle about the hinge of the belltower, it also recalls the present form of Paul Rudolph´s Art and Architecture Building at Yale, with theCharles Gwathmey addition mirrored across the now central tower of the stairwell. To the north is the sanctuary, which continues the modernist concrete expression of the exterior with its bowed ceiling, long ramp, and abstract, dramatically lit altar. To the south is commercial and residential space, screened above the ground floor by metal louvers (again, the facade) and housing a Ford dealership on the ground floor. I had not know about this building before catching a glimpse of it down the street on my way to something else, and it was a great surprise. I can't yet say why it is not given more attention in the writing on the period.

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    Also a surprise was the apartment building on C/ de Monte Esquinza by Javier Carvajal Ferrer (1966). It is the most clearly Brutalist of the buildings here, and is full of subtle details, from the piling up around the corner to the inflection of the north facade that accomodates one of the trees that line the sidewalk. Another unexpected building now among my favourites.

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    Finally, and to return to the beginning, there is Higueras and Miró's Military Housing Co-op (1973). A large urban intervention, organized around a curving street and number of internal courtyards, the housing complex is wonderfully overgrown. The large planters that structure the facade have the character of Rudolph drawings, with ivy pouring out of them, at once accentuating the verticals of the composition and softening the effect of the poured-in-place concrete.

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About this Blog

His research is focused on the diverse and shifting positions of architecture within Francoist Spain (1939-1975). It pursues a number of related questions, examining the relations between institutions of architecture and the regime, the function of architecture at the intersection of totalitarianism and an increasingly free market, and the evolution of architecture in Spain in the void left by the post-Civil War rejection of international modernism.

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