Art & Design

September 29, 2017

Tour Madrid Through Its Best Buildings

Hellscrapers, hyperboloids and Brutalist bliss

  • Written by Tom Smith

Whilst architect Norman Foster is now based in Madrid and winning bids all over town, and a new business area is being created in Chamartín, this month is all about exploring Madrid’s existing structures through Open House and Madrid’s Week of Architecture. The Spanish capital has been an architectural laboratory since the early 20th Century, and here are 10 of its greatest experiments.

Fundación Fernando Higueras

Rascainfiernos__Cortesía_de_Fundación_Fernando_Higueras__Lola_Botia (1)

Courtesy of the Fernando Higueras Foundation, Lola Botia

In the 1970s, when everyone else was dreaming of skyscrapers, Madrileño architect Fernando Higueras built his first “hellscraper”, digging down to create spaces filled with light thanks to windows in the ground. It was his house and studio until his death. Visiting it today, it seems the perfect relaxation retreat. Total silence, with art, plants and hammocks. Chamartín,

Gimnasio Maravillas


Courtesy of the Alejandro de la Sota Foundation

Not every school has a perfectly Instagram-able gymnasium. When Colegio Maravillas needed to expand in 1960, they turned to Galician architect Alejandro de la Sota. The gym is a large, single space in the basement with high south-facing windows, so the wooden floor shines with mono-directional light, making it much less coldly neutral than your average school gym. Chamartín

Torres de Colón


The Four Tours Business Area came along around the same time as the financial crisis, but there are more iconic towers on the skyline, including Torres de Colón (1976) by architect Antonio Lamela who died earlier this year. The main orange body is wonderful to look at, as is the green top that gives it the nickname “the plug”. Another tower, Castellana 81, has had a revamp. Salamanca

Iglesia de Santa Mónica


Courtesy Vincens + Ramos

When you think of a Madrid church, it isn’t necessarily a 21st Century pre-rusted steel construction in a new residential development outside the city. The Santa Mónica church by Vicens + Ramos, at the centre of Rivas-Vaciamadrid, has won awards for its striking protruding windows and light-filled interior. Artists were enlisted to create the sculptures and furnishings. Rivas-Vaciamadrid,

Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España


Nicknamed the “crown of thorns”, the 1967 HQ of the Institute of the Cultural Heritage of Spain is a piece of a heritage in itself. From the outside it’s the circular shape of the building and the spikes of its needles that impress. Once inside, go up to the top and you’re under a round glass roof. Brutalist bliss. Moncloa,

Hipódromo de la Zarzuela


Photo: Ana Amado

The last architectural gem from pre-Franco Spain. The photo everyone wants to take here is of the spectator stands with their column-free undulating roofs. This “hyperboloid” roof shape is the central idea to the hippodrome, and everything else was designed around it. You can still see the races here to the west of Madrid. Moncloa,

Torres Blancas


Another tower that stands out on the skyline is Torres Blancas by architect Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza. Built in 1969, it was one of the most complex reinforced concrete structures of the time, using cylinders as its primary form (when most concrete towers going up were brutalistically blockish). A masterpiece of organic architecture, it’s here to stay. Prosperidad

Desert City


When a group of cacti aficionados wanted somewhere superlative to grow, develop and exhibit their xerophytes, they bought some former wasteland north of the city and turned to Garciagerman Arquitectos who came up with an impressive 16,000m2 outdoor and indoor facility. This is a serious space – their aim is to become Europe’s most important cacti centre – and with a cacti shop and restaurant, it’s visitor-friendly too. San Sebastián de los Reyes,

Parque Móvil del Estado


There’s a lot hidden behind the functional façade of the Spain’s State Vehicle Fleet. A huge space – the same number of square metres as Real Madrid’s stadium, but what impresses is what it holds. Built in the 1930s when everything was done in house, even building the cars, the workshops now house an automobile collection. What’s particularly striking is the sweeping car ramp and the 1951 mural Los oficios del automóvil by Germán Calvo, intended as a response to Diego Riviera’s Detroit murals. Chamberí,

Instituto Eduardo Torroja


For architecture geeks who like their buildings with a dodecahedron in front of them (think twelve pentagons stuck together), this is the place for you. Torroja was an engineer (he was the man behind the hippodrome) and this was one of his last works. The whole complex is an example of Torraja’s innovations in reinforced concrete. Chamartín,


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