Thursday, May 10, 2018

Alberto Campo Baeza: Body and Soul

All photos © Javier Callejas

Sports Pavilion
University of Francisco de Vitoria, Madrid
db - deutsche bauzeitung
April 2018, pages 24 - 31; cover


Alberto Campo Baeza describes his gymnasium, built for the Legionaries of Christ's Francisco de Vitoria University in Madrid, as a "container of light," and he has submitted every detail of its design to the realization of this idea.

Large planes of translucent glass, which make up the upper sections of two of its enclosing walls, facing northwest and northeast respectively, flood the interior with indirect skylight.

Campo Baeza has muted all possible visual distractions in the interior, and finished every surface in white, in order to cede protagonism to the play of light across them. They receive and scatter the light, converting it into a spatial presence as palpable as the air itself. When we visited the building on a cloudy winter day, the interior seemed brighter than outside, as Campo Baeza proudly pointed out. The space collected and concentrated the light in a way that nothing around it could match.

The general massing forms a striking duality, in which the gymnasium and the narrow slab of the classrooms rise to the same height from either end of a common base.

This singular massing recalls the relation between Campo Baeza's Caja de Granada bank headquarters in Granada (2001), another "container of light", and his adjacent  Museum for the Memory of Andalucía (2010), where the low base ends in a spectacular, extenuated vertical slab at one end, which rises to the height of the bank on the other side, creating a conceptual spatial containment between them, although the two buildings are actually misaligned. Here the compositional idea is more condensed and conclusively realized.

Drawings courtesy of Albeto Campo Baeza

If there was something of the formal extremism of Boullée in the Museum in Granada, Campo Baeza also displayed a skillful use of stripped-down Beaux-Arts spatial organization in the plan, bringing to mind as well the compositional strategies of Post Modern proto-minimalists such as Aldo Rossi. We find these strategies here as well.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Brick at Bankinter

Photo: DC

Rafael Moneo with Ramón Bescós, Bankinter bank headquarters, Paseo de la Castellana, Madrid, 1972-76

I am a brick fan, and look at these!

Machine-pressed brick, a technological throwback from the 19th century. I think it was Emilio Tuñón who told me years ago that they came from an old factory discovered somewhere in Valencia or Sevilla that still had one of the old presses running - I wonder if it was running on steam!

The press produces those sharp crisp edges and smooth faces. The bricks have "frogs" or indents on the top and bottom to receive the mortar, so they can fit tightly together and hardly show mortar at all on the facade. The bricks match those of the palacete that Moneo preserved on the site, although on the older building, with its heavy stone trim everywhere, there's not much brick in evidence.

Moneo here runs a thin line of tinted mortar into the horizontal joints, and leaves the vertical joints empty – the opposite of Frank Lloyd Wright at the Robie House in Chicago, where he rakes the horizontal lines deep to catch shadows, and fills the vertical joints flush to the face of the brick, and tinted the same color, which breaks the brickwork into continuous horizontal bands, like the overall composition of the house itself.

Francisco de Asis Cabrero and Rafael Aburto do something similar with the Roman brick of the National Trade Union Building (1949-56) on the Paseo del Prado in Madrid, one of the references for Moneo when he designed Bankinter.

Here Moneo shows off the thickness of the wall with those staggered jambs, like the window openings in a Romanesque apse, but then he adds those refined, modern bronze lintels and sills -- like the thin concrete slabs that slide through the openings in thick brick walls of his Roman Museum in Mérida.

Moneo used the same brick for the Atocha Train Station, with all the joints morterless, if I recall. I'll have to take another look at the Roman Museum. I remember being disappointed that the bricks of the arches weren't filed down into wedges calculated to match the circumference of the arch, as would have been the case in the United States in the 1880s, but that was perhaps too much to expect.

This is "dressed" brick, designed specifically for facades. It's not the brick you find when you take down the plaster in the kitchen of your old brownstone. It's a veneer that doesn't carry any structural load. In the 1970s, many of these beautiful dressed-brick facades were marred by sand-blasting and re-pointing in botched restorations. I'm not up on the techniques used today in restoring them, but I suspect that things have gotten better.

I hope to go back when the light is right (in the morning) to take a picture of the building as a whole, although it is rather impossible to get a good angle. It appears to be in pretty good shape, looking a little staid from today's perspective but still quite elegant. And so tiny! It is really crammed in there behind the old house, a very tight fit, like an overgrown garden addition.

Foto: Francesc Català.Roca, from Arquitecturas Bis 23/24, July-Sept. 1978, p. 16

This is the work that made Corrales and Molezun's Bankunión instantly out of date. It's Spain's version of the Post Modern, which Moneo practically invented. It's contextual and provocatively historical –those brick walls and bronze bas-reliefs in the upper spandrels, by Francisco López Hernández– without renouncing the modern.