Walking is one way of getting to know a town and seeing what it’s like. And you can gaze at the buildings’ façades or peek into their entrances. It’ll make you feel a part of the city.
There’s no need for a sea in Madrid. To relax, you can just plunge into its streets, broad or narrow, where hundreds of literary figures once walked; go about discovering squares and parks; and enter art galleries, markets, bars and restaurants. In Madrid’s many neighbourhoods you can go to concerts, museums, gardens, cinemas and cultural centres; or just look at everything, such as the buildings, old and new.
A little tour of Madrid’s contemporary architecture reveals the sensitivity of architects and urban designers, the art that is often found in architecture, the respect for what other architects did in the past, the commitment to the environment and, above all, the beauty of structures.
Media Lab Prado
The old Serrería Belga building (located next to Caixa Forum in the Prado cultural triangle) has undergone an intervention by Langarita-Navarro Arquitectos to house Centro Medialab Prado, a space created for the production, research and dissemination of digital culture in a setting in which art, science, technology and society converge. As opposed to the traditional exhibition model, this space makes production a permeable process, converting spectators into actors, and mediators into connection facilitators. The Serrería Belga was built in various phases by the architect Manuel Álvarez Naya in the 1920s and it was one of the first structures in Madrid to use reinforced concrete. The intervention has given shape to a light jointed entity with a certain pretechnological air which, infiltrated into the building, provides a large transformation capacity. In short, this structure allows a coexistence of opposites which has permitted the intermediate region between interlocutors to be conceived not as a finished product but rather as an open versatile process activated by users.
Designed by the architect Jacobo García-Germán and standing at a certain distance from the bustle of Madrid, Desert City is a multifunctional complex forming a celebration of xerophytes —plants adapted to surviving with very little water— and the production of a whole culture of interests and events relating to these singular species. With its light, almost imperceptible architecture, Desert City accommodates a large garden, a greenhouse, a shop, a café and R&D spaces, where you can go to enjoy a walk, conferences, workshops and exhibitions. It is an oasis with 4,560 sq.m. of built space and 3,200 sq.m. of urbanized space and landscaping.
Malasaña, a neighbourhood in central Madrid which was the meeting place of musicians and artists during the city’s ‘Movida’ movement in the 1980s, has preserved its charm thanks to the lively atmosphere in its streets, bars, stores and bookshops. Here, the architect Andrés Jaque/Office for Political Innovation designed the restaurant Ojalá. It reflects the neighbourhood’s social diversity and is likewise formed by series of spaces in which architecture tends to establish different relationships with the climate, the furnishings and other people, determining the appearance of food and drink and the access to it. A conservatory open to the street, a big table shared by guests and waiters, tiers of benches fostering informal conversation among strangers and even an artificial beach set the stage every day for a very pleasant experience. Ojalá is an unexpected place of freedom.
In the upper part of Madrid’s Gran Vía stands the Telefónica Building, which became Spain’s first skyscraper in 1930. Today the first four floors of this building house the Telefónica Foundation, a cultural institution in which Moneo Brock Studio, in collaboration with Quanto Arquitectura, has developed a museum project of 4,450 sq.m. The historic nature of the building and the opaque relationships which existed between the spaces designed to accommodate the project inspired the creation of an open central area which interconnects the various exhibition spaces and the street. To achieve this an atrium was opened in the existing floor assemblies, inserting a large helical stairway whose sculptural forms extend to the circulation vestibules, creating a flowing sensation through the public space. The exhibition galleries are found in the place which formerly housed the telephone exchanges of all Spain, now divested of every superfluous feature, leaving only the original pillars in view. The ceiling structure is covered with a suspended grid so as not to conceal the building’s original intrinsic beauty (Calle Fuencarral, 3).
Madrid Río —Madrid River— is probably one of the most ambitious projects for a public space in all Europe in recent times. In 2003 the Madrid City Council decided to put underground the stretch of the city’s first major ring road that ran for six kilometres along the banks of the river Manzanares. The building of that stretch 30 years ago separated the city from its river, which was left isolated, inaccessible and invisible.
The team led by Ginés Garrido and formed by the practices Burgos & Garrido Arquitectos, Porras La Casta, Rubio & A-Sala and West 8, won the international tender called in 2005 for the development of the project of a public space in the area freed by the cut and cover of the motorway. The project connects the city of Madrid with the charming landscapes that surround it and this has turned the river Manzanares into what is precisely the nexus between the city and its geography. Madrid Río occupies an extension of 150 hectares of greenspace and 6 hectares of urban amenities, sports facilities, artistic performance and creativity centres, urban beach, children’s playgrounds, kiosks and cafés. Thanks to this intervention, Madrid once again forms part of the river’s geography.