Sunday, December 29, 2013

Almendrales on a Winter Sunday

I made an excursion to the Directed Settlement of Almendrales in Madrid today, and took a few pictures. I was able to get into the hypostyle church, with its slender columns and skylights, inspired in the "multi-polar" spaces of a mosque, and inspiration in turn, no doubt, for Rafael Moneo's Atocha Railroad Station. The columns double as rain gutters.

The housing was built by the Franco regime to replace shanty towns that sprang up around Madrid in the 1950s (see my related article on the Directed Settlement of Caño Roto). 

Church (1961-64)
José María García de Paredes

Settlement (1958 - 1964)
Ramón Vázquez Molezún
José Antonio Corrales
Javier Carvajal
José María García de Paredes

Warm, rough, simple brick, regular orientation to the light (evident in these pictures) without a sense of repetition, due to the rippling setbacks of the housing blocks.

Suppression of regular street grid for parking cul-de-sacs and green spaces, now with mature trees.

Low buildings for local shopping along one of the streets, and a kind of market in one area.

The openness and trees, the light and reflected light from the brick, set the district apart from its surroundings.

Many blocks have been renovated and finished in stucco. Otherwise the complex is remarkably preserved. The access to the church has been changed, and the covered porch along one side of the patio, and connecting the church to the parish house, has disappeared. But the patio's Mediterranean pines make up for this loss, I think.

Approach to the church (left)
Upper class houses built to the north of Madrid in the 1960s and 70s, in places like La Florida or Aravaca, often feature similar textures of warm brick. It seems to me to be a different brick from earlier or later periods, a brick that responds to the light with its rough texture, but a pink brick not too highly fired. This mixture of brick, relfected light and trees: elements of the Organicist Eden.

Church plan:
Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid, J. M. García de Paredes Arquitecto (1924 - 1990), COAM, Madrid, 1992, page 71.

The best site plan I could find so far. Top of plan is north:
Luis Moya González, Barrios de Promoción Oficial. Madrid 1939 - 1976, COAM, Madrid, 1983, page 212.

Location: Metro Almendrales
The settlement runs along the Avenida de Córdoba, the old highway route to the south, on the western side of the Manzanares River just south of the Legazpi Bridge.

Typical floor plan for the blocks:
Fundación COAM, Ramón Vázquez Molezún, Fundación COAM, Madrid, 2006, page 104.
From the Legado Vázquez Molezún

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

EuroVegas Pie-In-The-Sky, Goodbye!

Good news that you won't find making the PR circuit this month: the EuroVegas gambling complex proposed outside Madrid by Las Vegas Sands' owner Sheldon G. Adelsohn will not be built.

Goodbye to a 17 billion euro investment, 12 hotels with 36,000 rooms, six casinos, golf courses, shopping malls, a convention center, bars and restaurants. And goodbye, supposedly, to some 250,000 new jobs.

The project was cancelled because the Spanish government didn't accept the promoter's latest demands, but these were so far-fetched that they look more like a lame exit strategy on the part of Adelsohn (they included reducing taxes on gambling earnings to 1%).

Analysts suggest that the real reason Adelsohn pulled the plug is the failure of banks to line up financing for the project. Too much pie-in-the-sky.

So what's to celebrate? It's not like Spanish politicians didn't rush in to try to meet Adelsohn's demands for changes in labor laws, smoking restrictions, zoning and other legal niceties.

Didn't they learn anything from the past 15 years of debauched investments in failed theme parks, airports and cities of this and that (Culture, Arts and Sciences, Cine, Justice, etc. etc.)? No, it's the same old formula. But for once the banks didn't go along (the banks that went along with the first 15 years of boondoggling are no longer in the business).

How could they believe that EuroVegas, with its cheap jobs and mafia taint, could be a solution to anything?

Despite it all, though, I'm celebrating.

Goodbye, EuroVegas!
Bon Voyage!!!

Photo: Rendering of EuroVegas
From The Guardian. Feb. 8, 2013

Stories on the cancellation: 
Eurovegas not coming to Madrid after company demands rejected
El País, Dec. 13, 2013
(in English)

José Marcos
EuroVegas planta a Madrid por Asia
El País, Dec, 13, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Enter Velux Awards for Architecture Students

I have received the following announcement from The Architectural Review (UK) and a Velux, manufacturers of skylights and blinds:


  The VELUX Group challenges students of architecture from all over the world to explore and investigate daylight in architecture under the overall theme Light of Tomorrow. With a generous prize fund of 30,000 euros, the International VELUX Award is open to creative reflections on the role of daylight in architecture; not just as a design component or external factor, but as a central issue concerned with shaping architecture and promoting sustainability.

Entrants can freely explore the role of daylight in the built environment, whether focusing on daylight in urban contexts, in individual buildings, or as a more abstract concept.

The Award encourages an open-minded dialogue on the nature of the light of tomorrow based on experimental approaches and imaginative thinking. In particular, it focuses on the importance of sunlight and daylight in the context of sustainable development, taking human needs and the rhythms and balances of nature into account.

This year’s international jury comprises Craig Dykers, founding partner of Snøhetta; Roísín Heneghan founding partner of Heneghan Peng Architects; Magda Mostafa, Associate Professor at the American University in Cairo; Catherine Slessor, Editor of The Architectural Review and Per Arnold Andersen of The VELUX Group....

Registration is now open. Students must register before 3 March 2014 and the final deadline for submission of entries is 2 May 2014.
See more at:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thanks, nice try, but it doesn't seem to work

 In his blog Criticalista, Rafael Gomez-Moriana calls attention to a report in the Barcelona edition of El Pais on the failure of Enric Ruiz-Geli's oft-published Media-TIC Building to live up to expectations.

As you may recall, the structure was to save energy by way of a curtain of inflatable EFTE panels on its southwestern facade -- although the system only partially covered this facade, in a rather lame petal-like arrangement of segmented hexagonals, and left the more exposed, southeastern facade, composed of ten floors of floor-to-ceiling glass, completely unprotected.

The article reveals that the inflatable EFTE system stopped working only days after the building's inauguration, and high energy costs made it the city's most expensive property to maintain. The center is now closed for lack of renters or buyers.

Of equally dubious utility is the elaborate structural system, with floors suspended on cables from an ungainly double-floor steel truss that runs across the top of the structure, supposedly to offer maximum flexibility for the floors. Hello Pompidou, hello Mies, hello McGuffin.

A lot of people fell for this project in its time, but not me. Ruiz-Geli has always struck me as more about posture than substance, right up there with other Catalan superstars of self-promotion such as Josep Lluís Mateo or the Valencia-born Vicente Guallart, who for a brief and scary time was chief urban planner of Barcelona under its conservative nationalist government, and who seems to remain (equally scary, I must confess) head municipal architect.

If authorities permit this kind of extravagance in the name of experiment and research, shouldn't there be some rigor on the part of the practicing architect? And some accountability? Most of these projects don't even work that well as publicity stunts. I mean, everyone out there in New York, Tokyo and Belgrade, do you still remember this one?

Gomez-Moriana concludes:
" makes me wonder if the energy efficiency certification it so proudly received upon completion is still valid, or how it could ever even have received such certification in the first place. It also makes me think that architectural "sustainability" that depends entirely on active, highly technological mechanical systems may not make the most sense in the end."
"What is most disappointing, however, is that this experiment was created as an incentive for start-ups in the information and communication technology field. It was done with the vision that, in the long term, it would transform Barcelona into a Mediterranean technology hub."
"Oh well, so much for that idea."
Here's the relevant paragraph from El País:
"Quizá el caso más destacado sea el del edificio mediaTIC, un ejemplo de arquitectura verde que iba a inaugurar una nueva era de edificación sostenible. Construido con una cobertura plástica inflable reguladora de la luz y la temperatura, iba a reducir significativamente las emisiones de CO2 y la factura energética. Sin embargo, pronto se convirtió en el edificio más caro de mantener de todo el parque existente, debido al colapso del sistema inflable días después de su inauguración. Finalmente tuvo que cerrarse por la falta de inversores interesados en comprar un edificio con unos gastos de climatización desorbitados. Pero ahí sigue, cual fantasma del futuro-pasado."
Update January 9, 2014
Rafael Gomez-Moriana writes:
"I have issued an erratum in the comments section of my post after a reader made me aware that the El País article is misleading. Turns out that the building is not altogether "abandoned": the Cloud 9 architecture firm (!) and a Cybernarium occupy the ground and first floors of the building. The rest of the building still appears to be empty, however."

Rafael Gomez-Moriana
Media-Tic, Another Sad Spectacle
Criticalista, December 7, 2013

Gemma Galdon Clavell
Smart City 2023
El País Cataluña, December 7, 2013

Photos: Luis Ros
Courtesy of Enric Ruiz-Geli

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Homage to Manuel de las Casas

This Thursday, December 19 at 19:00, the Toledo School of Architecture officially presents the Manuel de las Casas Chair of Architecture. Manuel will talk about one of his early works, the Pedro Mora House in Talavera de la Reina (1964-71).

The event takes place in the lecture hall of Las Arquerias, the architecture exhibition space in Nuevos Ministerios in Madrid.

There will be an exhibit of student work and a performance by the Automatol, a three-meter tall "artificial walker" put together by students of architecture and engineering at the University of Castilla - La Mancha.

See everyone there!

Born to Run

I couldn't resist republishing this blog from Exabruptos, by my colleague-in-arms, John Sandwich:

Readers of Spanish, please don't miss Jacinto Antón's virtual tour of the new museum of Catalan hurt feelings in El País this Sunday, Born to Si, Si.

During the restoration of the Born, a19th century market, archeologists discovered the remains of an entire neighborhood demolished by Bourbon conquerors in the early 18th century, in reprisal for Barcelona's siding with the wrong monarchy in the War of Succession.

The project for a library in the building was cancelled, and now it has been opened as the Born Centro Cultural, "a sort of theme park glorifying that Barcelona razed by Phillip V's Bourbon troops in 1714," in the words of a more uncritical report published in El País on September 10th.

Antón explains:
"The Catalan sovereignty movement finally has a modern tool capable of transmitting its version of history and stir emotions in a mass audience...

"The fundamental experience pursued in the Born CC does not truly belong to the field of historic knowledge, but rather to that of
emoción identitaria, the identification with a people and a destiny, with its projection into the future ('the Catalan people maintained the memory of their liberty forever after'). And everything with a modern, impeccable aesthetic and design, equal to that of any European museum."

September 11, 2014 will be the third centennial of this conquest, just in time for the referendum on Catalan independence that the government of Arturo Más is attempting to organize, as a diversion from his disastrous economic policy.

You know the old routine, things are going bad, find someone to blame.

Makes me think back on the emotionally manipulative exhibit displays at Washington's Holocaust Museum, opened in the 1990s. There the aim of moral education is theoretically more universal, but as my friend David Cohn wrote at the time, shouldn't we have more faith in reasonable argument, also on moral grounds? Emotional communication is for another sphere -- but exactly which one?

Meanwhile the grim historic facts about the repression of Catalan identity on the part of centralizing forces from Madrid are quite solid. Archeologists recovered 300 cannon balls from the ruins under the Born, for example; 60 are in the exhibition.

A few more pearls:
"El Born CC, que tiene parte de Yad Vashem —el museo de los mártires y el heroísmo del Holocausto, en Jerusalén— y parte de parque temático, con un puntito de Nou Camp (en los dioramas y reconstrucciones históricas las casacas de las tropas que defendieron la ciudad son mayoritariamente azul y grana y las de los atacantes borbónicos, blancas)..."

"...por todas partes en el Born CC el visitante encuentra alusiones a lo feliz, fantástica y próspera (incluso con helados) que era la vida hasta la Guerra de Sucesión —como si los catalanes fueran un pueblo de industriosos hobbits sobre los que se cernía la sombra del Mordor borbónico y su “barbarie absolutista— y mensajes más o menos subliminales tipo '1714-2014 Vivir libre', 'Feliz Tricentenario', 'Reborn'...."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Patricia Meneses in San Luis Potosi

For anyone who happens to be nearby, I reproduce the invitation to the show of Patricia Meneses' work at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Meneses was featured in Architectural Record's Design Vanguard issue in 2010, together with her former partner Iván Juárez. I wrote an introduction for this show in Spanish, which I reproduce below.

arquitecturas corpóreas

studio patricia meneses

opening reception
19.12.2013  19:30h
19.12.2013 - 23.02.2014

contemporary art museum
morelos 235, historical center san luis potosí,    m e x i c o

"Patricia Meneses es arquitecta, pero su obra extiende los limites convencionales de la profesión. Trabaja principalmente sobre el encuentro entre el cuerpo humano y la naturaleza, trazando el territorio de mediación entre ambos que abarca dos temas fundamentales: la protección del cuerpo ante los elementos –con temas como el ropaje, el nido, el capullo, el cobertizo—, y la proyección del cuerpo y sus sentidos hacia el mundo natural –la proyección de la mirada, los caminos y sus puntos de parada, y los lugares de encuentro y asentamiento donde se construyen las relaciones más estables con un territorio, con el mundo animal que la habita y con las demas personas, abarcando la sociedad y sus propios encuentros—."

"En ésta zona intermediaria de mediación, el edificio, en su condición de objeto extraño introducido entre el cuerpo y la naturaleza, desaparece. Se difume en las varias tecnicas de la artesanía, otro territorio de encuentro entre el cuerpo y la naturaleza, que trata de la manipulación de materiales naturales con las manos. Las obras de Patricia Meneses se fabrican con hilos, cuerdas, ramas o materiales textiles, y con tecnicas como las de tejar, tensar, trenzar, hacer nudos, etc. (aunque a veces trabaja con materiales bastante sofisticados como el nylon o el metacrilato, según el encargo). Sus obras entonces parecen devolvernos a una condición primitiva e idilica, desprovista del ropaje tecnico de la civilización –recordamos la casa de Adán en el Paraíso–, cuando aún no hubo división entre lo artificial y lo natural, cuando todo pertenecía a un continuo, sin fisuras: la condición de la arquitectura antes de la arquitectura."

"Este territorio sin fisuras, sin el objeto extraño de la arquitectura metido entre el sujeto y el mundo que le envuelve, tiene paralelos con el territorio de actuacion de otros artistas contemporáneos, como por ejemplo Gordon Matta-Clark, donde se eliminan el pedestal, la galería de paredes blancas o el marco. Su obra no se destaca como objeto exceptional, ajeno al mundo cotidiano, sino que se emerge y se exhibe como parte de ese mundo, transformándolo en el proceso. Para éstas artistas, y para Patricia Meneses, su obra se convierte en una acción de transformar una parte del mundo cotidiano y la documentación de ésta acción efímera, su registro para fijarla como parte de la memoria colectiva cultural."

"Las fuentes creativas de Patricia Meneses se escapan de los limites convencionales de la arquitectura porque tiene sus origenes en una visión más amplia del mundo que precede su formación disciplinar. Tienen sus origenes en su niñez, cuando empieza a experimentar con la elaboración de su propia ropa, en ese momento de formación vital cuando el juego infantil se realiza como parte de la experiencia completa de la persona en sus primeros encuentros con el mundo a su alrededor, en el process de descubrir a si mismo, a su cuerpo y al mundo físico. Esta conexión con la fisicalidad de la existencia es tan central en su obra que el hecho de convirtirse hace poco en madre por la primera vez, y de llevar el cuerpo de un nuevo ser dentro de su propio cuerpo, parece como una obra más en su trayectoria creativa, como los nidos y capullos de otros proyectos."

"De estas observaciones podamos concluir, en forma de hipótesis, que la obra de Patricia Meneses aspira a fusionar el arte y la vida, recurriendo a ese viejo sueno utópico de muchos artistas revolucionarios del principio del siglo XX (Kandinsky, Mondrian, Le Corbusier...) de otorgar a la vida la misma condición que la obra de arte. Su objetivo se puede definir como la exploración o elaboración de un territorio de espiritualidad no-religiosa que da sentido a la vida, que le otorga su significado y dignidad en un mundo que, sin ella, amenaza a convertirse en nada más que una extensión anodina y sin cualidades, medida y controlada solamente por la técnica pura y desnuda de la razón. La obra de Patricia Meneses trata de cubrir la desnudez de ese mundo con el ropaje de su propia sensibilidad."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Two from Spain in Design Vanguard

Héctor Fernández Elorza, School of Cellular and Genetic Biology
Of the ten young architecture firms from around the world selected for Architectural Record's annual Design Vanguard issue this December, two are Spanish: Héctor Fernández Elorza and Grupo Aranea, led by the couple Francisco Leiva and Marta García Chico.

My article on Elorza begins:
"Using raw primary materials such as concrete and galvanized steel, simple forms, and an adroit manipulation of scale, the Madrid-based architect Héctor Fernández Elorza gives even small projects a monumental authority. Two horizontal glass slashes across the facade of his Faculty of Cellular and Genetic Biology at the University of Alcalá, for example, transform the rows of diminutive offices and seminar rooms behind them into a mysterious, iconic mask, while deeply projecting concrete planes shade the interior spaces from the western sun. At a larger scale, in the Valdefierro Park outside his native Zaragoza, long concrete retaining walls emerge from the hillside like the ruins of a lost city."

Grupo Aranea, The Braided Valley River Park, Elche
I write about the obsession with spiral movement in the work of the Alicante-based Grupo Aranea:
"Their first building, a library in San Vicente del Raspeig completed in 2004, is a continuous spiraling ramp. And both a seaside spa in Gijón and an Environmental Observatory in Alicante spin around themselves in open-ended loops. Their Lude House sits like a hard white seashell atop an existing building in the town of Cehegín, rippled inside and out by the curving, rising movement of its stair and double-height living area."
"Even a completely orthogonal design, a public high school in the village of Rafal, is organized around circular movement: a pink-carpeted bleacher opposite the entrance, which doubles as a wide stair and meeting point, kicks off a sequence of corridors and outdoor spaces that circle back over the entry and around a playing field to connect classroom pavilions."
Héctor Fernández López Architects 
Architectural Record, Design Vanguard, December 2013

Grupo Aranea
Architectural Record, Design Vanguard, December 2013

Photo top  © Montse Zamorano
Photo bottom © Jesús Granada