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.


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