Something old, something new | Madrid, Spain

Images of the ground in and around the CaixaForum building in Madrid can only barely begin to suggest how thoroughly impressive the entire space is. But even they, on their own, manage to hint at the broad sweep, thoughtfulness and consideration for consistency with which the turn-of-the-century former industrial building and space around it was remodeled and turned into the present-day contemporary art center.

Located in the middle of Madrid’s three most import art venues – the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums, the CaixaForum building – originally a power station built in 1899 in the industrial style typical of Madrid at the time, was redesigned by the Swiss architectural duo Herzog & de Meuron (who also designed London’s Tate Modern 2, which used to be a power station as well).

In the renovation process, the old brick structure was hollowed out on the inside, lifted up off the ground and additional floors, encased with rusted steel, were constructed on top. The reconstruction, which took place between 2001 and 2007, created an entirely new and thoroughly impressive space while still giving a nod to the building’s historical appearance. Next to the main structure, in stark contrast to its brick and rusted steel façade, now stands a 24-meter high “vertical garden” – a large green wall, on which 15,000 plants from 250 species grow.

The garden, designed in collaboration with the botanist Patrick Blanc, is supposed to establish a connection with the Botanical Garden, located across the Paseo del Prado from the CaixaForum, while the wooden railing along the staircase inside the building somehow seems to organically tie the otherwise industrial interior to the garden.

I suspect that I would have been slower to notice the inspired way in which the building was transformed and the thoughtfulness with which it interacts with its surroundings if it weren’t for my recent dismal visit to Sofia’s newly opened, hastily “brought up to date” and hugely disappointing Museum of Contemporary Art.

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