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Madrid Reconsidered


Madrid is one of the great European capitals. Thinking that we can grasp its complexity through a few, brief articles would prove fruitless: what actually interested us was to follow our own path, a personal passion that could easily turn into a small lesson in urban architecture, given the sweeping nature of the themes. In fact, in Madrid it is possible to identify, by choosing certain exemplary works, a fil rouge that binds together different quintessences, from the representative one of places of power, to the domestic one of city dwelling, through reflection on construction aspects.
As we all know, capital cities are born from the wishes of political power: this capital was desired and built at the drawing board, in the middle of the sixteenth century, by the kings of Spain who chose it for its centrality. As a result, its entire history has been marked by this relationship with institutions, and a trip down the Paseo della Castellana, which weaves among stations, museums, banks and institutional premises seemed like the first task to undertake.
This avenue and its immediate surroundings have been built on by many architects from the first generation of Spanish Modernism: Fisac, Senz de Oza, Alejandro de la Sota and even a Catalan, Coderch. This space-time connection is useful to present a special moment of Madrid's urban history, the years of the growing awareness of its late modernity, an arguably less well known period of Spanish architecture with respect to the successes of more recent critical fortune.
For prevalently political reasons, Modernity in Spain came to be refined above all in the fifties and sixties, with a rare slowness and awareness, adopted by those few figures we mentioned. We decided to tell the story of these architects, often as much masters from among the celebrated architects of democracy, such as Moneo or Navarro Baldeweg, as those from the third generation of learned architects who now find themselves teaching and directing the main US universities, I am thinking for example of Iaki Abalos, Juan Herreros, or Emilio Tun.
We have picked certain architects and works because of the topicality of the themes tackled and the exemplary nature of their design choices, but also to illustrate, in Italy, the sense of a profession. The constancy of these masters' work, their respect and the social role of a profession that is still easily recognizable when one steps over the threshold of the Technical School of the Polytechnic University, where the architect-professors are a group of friends that the students quickly become part of, developing this tradition of our work.
A late modernity therefore, with respect to the example par excellence of Italian Rationalism, but which also finds in its slow construction the strength of its continuity, such as the works by Moneo and Tun I am going to illustrate here.
It is impossible not to have another look at Moneo thinking of his series of museums that open the Retiro system towards the north of the city, following the course of the river that La Castellana continues, with the Prado and the Thyssen Bornemisza, however it is equally impossible not to sense the strength of the other dense nucleus that characterizes Madrid's forma urbis to the west, with the court city and the Royal Palace, where Mansilla y Tun Architects recently created the Museum of the Royal Collections, completing the city's new face while defining the two poles that embrace the historical centre.
Few cities are so clearly represented by a street as is the case of the Paseo della Castellana in Madrid, and our exploration begins by comparing two bank buildings created on this axis in the seventies, by a maestro and his student. Two emblematic buildings that are opposing in every way: from their urban role, the one timid the other upstanding, from an evident difference in type, to the way they sit on or in the ground, or the character of the construction materials chosen, in the first evocative in the other experimental.
Material and construction, like structural conception and space, are the real themes that underlie the design choices presented in this number. As often happens, Spanish Modernity runs in parallel with contemporary research in the structural field.
In the case of the Catalan engineer Eduardo Torroja, we can observe a match between the form of his structural choices and the investigations of space, balance, light and material that typify architectural research in Spain.
Torroja's structural conception is reinterpreted here as a reference for the treatment of light and space in the civil works of Fisac and De La Sota, such as the large nave of the Hydrographic Institute and the section of the Colegio Maravillas Gymnasium.
The provocative sense of equilibrium that characterizes many of Torroja's works suffice to think of the roof of the Zarzuela hippodrome seems to have suggested the structural gamble of the Banco de Bilbao to Senz de Oza, who, with his giant concrete structure on which are hung the minute metal structures of the single floors would not have had the courage to create that ground floor so proudly detached from the ground, to let new urban spaces penetrate the building.
After Paris and London, Madrid is the third most populous city in Europe and the twentieth-century story of urban planning and architectural choices in the creation of residential settlements would merit a separate treatise.
Starting from criticism of the density of nineteenth-century ensanches and the proposals realized by Zuazo, with his Casa de las Flores, or Gutierrez Soto, through the affordable housing of the domingeros, working class neighbourhoods erected in the forties by manual labourers on their days off, Madrid has continued, from the fifties right up to the recent real estate bubble, to lay down settlement ideas, create new neighbourhoods, experiment with city life, density, different types and morphologies to end up as an atlas of the relationship house/open-air city. The architects of Modernity proved themselves as much in social housing neighbourhoods, as in houses for the well-heeled bourgeois, offering on the one hand balanced urban layouts and attention to public space, and on the other fresh construction experiments: and it is here that we have chosen the works of Senz de Oza and Coderch, a Catalan architect who used local skills for extensive research into the spatial aspects of dwelling.
We have selected six works, just a few beloved and studied maestros, in the hope that these might open up awareness of many other examples that could enrich this visit to a city that tackles contemporary large scale urban themes through a variety of approaches; structural, spatial and emblematic.

Orsina Simona Pierini

y. VII - nr. 42 - oct, dec 2017
edited by: Paolo Strina
y. VII - nr. 41 - jul, sep 2017
edited by: Angela D'Agostino
y. VII - nr. 39 - jan, mar 2017
edited by: Lamberto Amistadi, Francesco Primari
y. VII - nr. 38 - oct, dec 2016
edited by: Tommaso Brighenti
y. VII - nr. 37 - jul, sep 2016
edited by: Giuseppina Scavuzzo
y. VII - nr. 36 - apr, jun 2016
edited by: Renato Capozzi
y. VII - nr. 35 - jan, mar 2016
edited by: Orsina Simona Pierini
y. VI - nr. 34 - oct, dec 2015
edited by: Andrea Matta
y. VI - nr. 33 - jul, sep 2015
edited by: Enrico Prandi
y. VI - nr. 32 - apr, jun 2015
edited by: Lamberto Amistadi
y. VI - nr. 31 - jan, mar 2015
edited by: Andreas Kofler
y. V - nr. 30 - nov, dec 2014
edited by: Enrico Prandi
y. V - nr. 29 - sep, oct 2014
edited by: Enrico Prandi, Lamberto Amistadi
y. V - nr. 27-28 - may, aug 2014
edited by: Lamberto Amistadi, Ildebrando Clemente
y. V - nr. 26 - mar, apr 2014
edited by: Mauro Marzo
y. V - nr. 25 - jan, feb 2014
edited by: Carlo Gandolfi
y. IV - nr. 24 - sep, oct 2013
edited by: Enrico Prandi, Paolo Strina
y. IV - nr. 23 - jul, aug 2013
edited by: Antonella Falzetti
y. IV - nr. 22 - may 2013
edited by: Giuseppina Scavuzzo
y. III - nr. 21 - oct, nov 2012
edited by: Lamberto Amistadi