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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Spain's Building Boom
By Ada Louise Huxtable
20 April 2006
The Wall Street Journal Europe

Terence Riley, the organizer of the Museum of Modern Art's current exhibition, "On Site: New Architecture in Spain" (on view until May 1), has left his position as Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, after 15 years of close involvement with MoMA's destiny, to become the director of the Miami Art Museum. As his final curatorial gesture, he has given us a splendid survey of new Spanish work that highlights what the museum has always done so well: the selective presentation of a knowledgeable, insightful, impeccably produced summary of an important area of the arts informed by a specific point of view.

It appears that Mr. Riley has made his move at a definitive moment in his own and the museum's careers. It has become depressingly clear with the completion of its new building that MoMA has ended an era of lively personal relationships with the art and mysteries of modernism to become a sedate high-ticket institution of predictable corporate culture and safe social chic. It feels like an old friend who is suddenly rich and remote after moving into expensive new digs. Who knew that its destiny would look like this?

"On Site: New Architecture in Spain" focuses on that country's extraordinary building boom of the past 20 years in the kind of large-scale treatment of the newest and best that we have come to expect from MoMA's architecture programs.

All of the examples are recent; of the 53 buildings on view, 18 have been completed since 2000, and 35 are under construction now. They include museums, hospitals, libraries, cultural centers, stadiums, auditoriums, social housing and new structures for transportation and tourism. An infusion of about $110 billion from the European Union over the past two decades has modernized the country's infrastructure with the addition of roads, bridges, airports and train stations. The scale and variety of the new work ranges from a small pedestrian way providing elegant access for a dramatic walkway that runs atop the Teruel city walls, to an enormous airport, the Barajas Terminals in Madrid, the largest construction in Europe when it was being completed earlier this year.

Both were designed by British architects -- the pedestrian path by David Chipperfield in collaboration with b720 Arquitectos, and the airport by Richard Rogers Partnership with Estudio Lamela. Although the majority of the buildings are by Spanish architects, there is a full representation of international celebrity names, with projects by the Swiss firm of Herzog and deMeuron; Toyo Ito, of Japan; Rem Koolhaas, from the Netherlands; and the American Frank Gehry, who put Spain at the center of everyone's vision with the astoundingly successful Guggenheim in Bilbao.

A number of factors have come together to make this architectural revolution possible. The reinstitution of democracy after the Franco dictatorship, Spain's entry into the European Union in 1986, and the Seville World's Fair and the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992 accelerated a massive building program that has also become a creative laboratory for modern architecture. The sheer quantity is impressive, but the quality is remarkable.

One of the first things the visitor sees is a large photograph of the undulating, colorful tile roof by Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue that unites the old buildings of the Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona; this sets a cheerful tone of optimism and renewal. Color murals by photographer Roland Halbe document the completed structures. There are seductive models of everything in the show, in pristine white as fresh as the architects' ideas, or the suave silver that is the latest fashion. People linger delightedly at the Hotel Habitat by Enric Ruiz-Geli with Cloud 9 Acconci Studio and Ruy Ohtake, a miniature simulacrum of a proposed four-star hotel for Barcelona covered with a web of 5,000 winking light-emitting diodes, or LEDS, powered by solar cells for a nighttime display of glowing colors.

Housing designs have rotating towers to absorb and use sun for heating and cooling; decentralized health facilities are small and inviting, like the center built in Santa Eulalia, Ibiza, by Mario Corea and Lluis Moran, a simple, attractive building of meticulous Corbusian detail. Sports facilities include a multicolored soccer stadium in Barakaldo, Vizcaya, by Eduardo Arroyo of NO.MAD Arquitectos, and arts facilities are in such far-flung locations as La Coruna in the northwest region of Galicia, which boasts two new museums -- a combined dance and art building by Victoria Acebo and Angel Alonso, and a tiny high-tech marvel of a museum just completed by the British architect Nicholas Grimshaw, too late for inclusion. A full array of dramatically experimental designs, some scheduled for production, but all unrealized as yet, adds excitement and adventure to the selection.

The survey reveals a vital period of innovation and experimentation in Spain, but it also tells us something important about the state of architecture today. This is the work of a gifted younger generation that has moved beyond the trivialization of postmodern cuteness, the fashionable deprivations of extreme minimalism, and the conceptual tunnel vision of the hard-core techies. These architects are engaging what and how we build in terms of the achievements of the 20th-century revolution in aesthetics and technology and the equally revolutionary opportunities provided by incredibly rapid developments in materials and computer-aided building technologies. This appears to be the moment of consolidation and advance that has followed the thoughtfully reconceived work of a preceding generation in Spain led by architects like Rafael Moneo, whose landmark structures are also in the show.

Researching the 1980s recently, I went through a vast pile of professional journals and was struck by the difference between then and now, how appallingly thin, tentative, falsely contextual and philosophically pretentious the work was 20 years ago, while busily declaring itself the new wave. I remember that my inclination at the time was simply to disengage and wait for sanity to return. The new Spanish work is a creative exploration of handsome and appropriate ways to build for the 21st century.


Ms. Huxtable is the Journal's architecture critic.

142,613 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
FEATURE-Spanish architecture enjoys new golden age
By Julia Hayley

MADRID, April 23 (Reuters) - Spanish architecture is riding a wave of international success, driven by generous public spending on new buildings and a willingness to break with the past and experiment with daring new forms and structures.

Eye-catching buildings are popping up all over the country, from a multicoloured phallic tower that has transformed the Barcelona skyline to a spacecraft-like hotel in the northern Rioja wine region.

"If you had to choose a nation that is moving fastest in cultural terms it has to be Spain," veteran British architect Richard Rogers told Reuters.

"After 40 years of the limitations of a fascist government, you suddenly see a tremendous vitality. You feel it in the street."

Rogers and Spain's Lamela Studio are behind Madrid's airy new Barajas airport terminal and its satellite, whose undulating aluminium roofs echo the shape of the surrounding hills and are supported by pillars painted every colour of the rainbow.

The creative surge of building has been fuelled by years of steady economic growth and heavy state and regional government spending on public buildings, roads and railways, often with help from European Union funds.

"Spain is best described as vibrant. It is one of the leading centres of innovation not only in Europe but in the world," said Terence Riley, who organised an exhibition of Spanish architecture now showing at New York's Museum of Modern Art.


The Spanish work on show illustrates how profound economic and political changes have generated an "unprecedented flowering" of architecture, the exhibition guide says.

"In the last 20 years, the country has undertaken the most extensive building and rebuilding of its civil infrastructure since the Romans," Riley, now director of the Miami Art Museum, says in an essay on the MOMA exhibition.

Spain embraced creative freedom enthusiastically once it had shaken off the effect of nearly four decades of military dictatorship under General Francisco Franco.

Spanish architecture in particular was stimulated by access to EU development funds from the late 1980s and the hosting of a World Expo and the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992 which required landmark new structures to be built.

Spanish towns and cities are littered with centuries-old buildings, some restored and others in varying degrees of decay, but this does not limit the scope of modern architects, says Simon Smithson, the Barajas airport terminal project architect.

"Here there are absolutely no qualms about the juxtaposition of a modern building with a historical one," he says. "You can go to any small town in Spain and find a bold piece of modern architecture right in the historical centre."

Barcelona's biggest new work is the smooth blue and red tower, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel as a new headquarters for services company Agbar, and Spain's answer to London's controversial "gherkin", now headquarters of the insurance company Swiss Re.

The city is stuffed with bold designs.

"Barcelona has the best urban regeneration in Europe. They've changed 6 km (3.75 miles) of rusting port and foul sand into the most beautiful beach where you can practically dive in from your hotel bedroom," Rogers says.

In the southeastern region of Murcia, Spaniard Rafael Moneo has designed a bold, pale cube as an extension to the regional capital's city hall, contrasting with the 14th century cathedral opposite.

Both the cube and the Agbar tower are included in the MOMA exhibition, which runs until the end of April.


Antonio Lamela, whose studio worked in partnership with Rogers on the airport terminal, designed his first building in 1954, during Franco's dictatorship.

Now 79, he describes the changes in Spain's social and physical environment in his lifetime as being akin to moving from the Middle Ages to the cosmic age.

"Urban design and architecture are always a reflection of society ... Spain is a very active, dynamic and daring society," Lamela told Reuters.

His buildings look less revolutionary today than those of younger architects, but in their time many of them were pioneering.

Lamela and his team were behind the imposing Real Madrid soccer stadium and the Torres Colon, a 1990s office block whose top is designed to look like a giant, luminous electric plug and which was built by suspending the floors from the roof.

Better known outside Spain is Santiago Calatrava, who has designed landmark bridges in his native Valencia and is now building a spiky-roofed new transport hub for New York's World Trade Center site.

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113 Posts
I just went to MOMA in New York this past weekend to see the Edvard Munch exhibit (which was terrific) and I came across the "On Site: New Architecture in Spain" exhibit. The exhibit is relatively small but the projects are well documented with models and photographs (some of them almost full-scale). The quality of the projects and the fact that several were located in small towns (not just Madrid and Barcelona) was very impressive.

MOMA is typically $20/adult (children 16 and younger are free). However, if you show up with your kids (who are between the ages of 5 & 10) on Saturday or Sunday morning by 10, you can enter the museum for FREE and be given a 30 minute tour (here's a link: ). This particular family program continues through the end of May.

This was a terrific and affordable option for seeing MOMA. After the guided children's tour, we picked-up the audio tours (which are also FREE) and spent an additional 4 hours in the museum (my kids like museums!). I can't say enough good things about it!

Apparently, several other museums in NY have similar family programs; we're already planning our next outing to the city.
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