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Emmett Zeifman Travel Blog

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    Madrid

    emmettzeifman Jul 22 '10 1

    A few preliminary images from Italy on scale and style.

    Rossi's cemetery in Modena was at once less than, more, and exactly what I expected it to be. It coincides with his representations in a wonderful way, fragmented, always begging a one-point perspective. My favourite moments are where it trails off into farm fields, or runs up into the generic suburbs and highways of northern Italy. Rossi succeeded in something, a work completely at ease with itself and its location. Whether this comes from the city or not, I'm not sure. The project feels less a city of the dead, and less of the city, than something purely architectural and unassuming. I wonder how many architects imagine being interred (can one be interred out of the ground?) in its many open plots.

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    The EUR was odd, much less cohesive than I'd always imagined it to be. Its corners are packed with small suburban apartments, and between the monuments there is run of the mill commerce and there are some run of the mill office buildings. Weeds are growing, cars are parked, people are drinking coffee. Here it is though, as pure as I could make it (actually it is even more pure on film, but that will have to wait), and with it my shot at American Beauty.

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    Museo della Civiltà Romana from Emmett Zeifman on Vimeo.



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    El Escorial, Phillip II's Renaissance palace-cum-monastary outside of Madrid, is a touchstone for Spanish architecture, particularly that engaged in a historicist attempt at being somehow purely Catholic European Spanish--namely that of the early years of Franco's regime. Its second architect, Juan de Herrera (who completed the work after Juan Bautista de Toledo died), now lends his name to the Herreran style, which is particularly evident in the capital.

    More than anything, the Escorial is big, and austere. It has the feeling of Brunelleschi maybe, of the cleanest form of the Renaissance, bred with a Northern brooding, and a Spanish of the land presence in the yellow stone, which rises straight out of the yellow ground. In otherwords, even at its most purely Spanish, Spanish architecture is always, irrevocably, mixed.

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    Luis Guitierrez Soto (a whichever way the wind blows former--and future--modernist typical of the early Franco years) borrows heavily on the Escorial for his Ministry of Air (headquarters of the air force), one of the significant federal buildings in the capital constructed in the aftermath of the Civil War (1939). Here the stone is traded for brick, and the basillica is done away with, but the reference is unmistakable--hence the nickame, the Monastery of Air. A friend remarked on the irony of the headquarters of the most advanced branch of government, that born of out the revolutionary saturation bombing of the Civil War, being the most architecturally regressive. The scale is also massive, an urban plan consisting of a perimeter of blocks around the ministry itself, all executed in identical style.

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    By contrast, Francisco de Asís Cabrero´s Trade Union (1949) on the Paseo del Prado is credited by some with being the first modern building in Spain of the post-war era. The ironies abound, as Luis Fernandez-Galiano remarked to me that Cabrero was probably the most committed Falangist of the major architectural figures in Madrid. The stripped classicism and abstraction owe something to Italy, but perhaps gave something back as well. Either way, it's a remarkable and rare example of innovative architecture in the early years. In the Spanish context, the brickwork and resolution of the urban problem carry over to Moneo, for one. The building is situated directly across the Paseo del Prado from the Museo itself (the mature trees rendering the flat elevation the building begs for impossible). Its scale pales in comparison to Soto's Airforce building, but its varied massing around an irregular city block and integration with the urban fabric nonetheless distinguish it.

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    The New Ministries up the Castellena from Cabrero's building illustrates the complexities of architectural production in the period immediately surrounding the war, and the difficulty in relating form to politics. Begun in 1932 by the Republican government Secundino Zuazo, architect, and Eduardo Torroja Miret, engineer) in a modernist 1930s style, it was completed after the war, with the addition of classicizing elements (the same was done to the Faculty of Architecture in the Ciudad Universitaria, which was on the front lines during the Civil War and given stone facing and pilasters after, distinguishing it from the brick campus buildings of its vintage). More than anything else, one can see the fine line between this strain of bureaucratic modernism and classicism, wherein the proportions of the former are still strongly related to the later. The urban plan, with a long narrow arcade housing the metro entrances and some cultural facilities lining the street front and a surprisingly well used park occupying the space between the arcade and the complex behind, is interesting and, to my mind, the most persistently modernist element of the project (along with the odd L-shaped massing of the corners). In the rear, the naked brick--a testament to economy no doubt--shows what could have been. The Fascists could only afford to put three faces forward, leaving a two-faced building.*

    All of this reminds me of the New Jersey entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, the high point, for me, of America's new deal imperial modernism.

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    The grandest, and most regressive monument of them all, the one that spurred this trip in the first place, is--because this is the summer of restoration--currently closed. From photos and first-hand accounts, the Valley of the Fallen defies description. However I'll have to wait for another trip for my attempt, the closest I was able to get was a view of the cross in the distance out of the bus window on my way the Escorial (its proximity is no coincidence). One suspects that restoration may be ongoing and over schedule, as Franco's final resting place is a source of both controversy and insult. One of my roommates in Madrid explained to me that it is a not uncommon sentiment that the cross--the world's largest--should be knocked down, and the whole place closed for good.

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    It has been an interesting couple of weeks in Spain with the World Cup. I was in Madrid for the last rounds, where there were Spanish flags everywhere, and newspaper articles touting a generation of youth "without complexes"--referring to the Fascist associations with a national flag that was never changed after Franco's death and the transition to democracy. It was supposed that it might now be okay to fly the flag in Catalunya--that for a few weeks, at least, all were Spanish. I had my doubts, having been in Barcelona for a game where I was assured that people were only cheering for the numerous Catalan players on the national team, and hoping that while the players did well, the team ultimately failed. Certainly Catalan flags far outnumber Spanish ones on the balconies here in Barcelona. Having returned this week, I was speaking to a friend about the aftermath of the World Cup victory. There was a celebration, she said, not too big, but the big news was that a Catalan political rally the day before--the largest ever seen in Catalunya, piped in her son, an ardent seperatist--was being under represented by the national media by as much as 1/20th. The media was saying 50 000, they believed there had been a million. If given the option of a referendum on independence, as was the case in Quebec in the 1990s, she said that she would vote yes, and had no doubt that it would pass. That's exactly why they'll never give us one, said her son.

    Spanish Flag from Emmett Zeifman on Vimeo.



    *I've since read something that refutes the story of classicizing of the New Ministries, which was recounted to me by a young architect I was introduced to in Madrid. In either case it's a good story, and the essential fact, that beneath the surface treatment the work is essentially modern, remains.
     

     
    • 1 Comment

    • Medit
      Jul 23, 10 12:16 pm

      That's a strange coda... "they'll never give us one, said her son".
      And just after that, 45 seconds of a silent spanish flag. Alone. Eternal.

      It's both poetic -as poetic as bullfighting can be- and menacing. And as a Catalan (and one that would also vote yes for Catalonia's freedom -independence, self-government or whatever-) I find it quite disturbing.
      I know who Fernandez Galiano is. And I know what he thinks about spanish and catalan politics, through his articles in El País and Arquitectura Viva.
      I see him in that flag.

      Check out Coderch while in BCN. And the rest of Grup R for some more modern arch during the black years.

      (the media saying 50,000 were based on air photos done at 20:30h by a (biased) agency called Lynce while the demonstration officially finished at 20:00h and by 20:20h most people had gone... that's how they usually "analyze" things in Madrid. So rigorous... *sigh*
      1 million, was the biggest demonstration since 1977 -in fact, even bigger than those in the first years of the transition. And there were 70,000 celebrating Spain's victory at the WC the day after. Two minor incidents on Saturday compared to dozens of police and spanish hooligan fans hurt and trees burned on Sunday. Enough said.)

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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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