”la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects inaugurates the CaixaForum Madrid, a new concept in social and cultural centres

Madrid

13.02.08

11 minutos de lectura
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The CaixaForum Madrid is the result of a single desire: to extend and diversity the social and cultural activities offered by ”la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects in the capital to benefit of its citizens. It represents a new concept in social and cultural centres befitting the 21st century, a platform in accordance with the concerns of today's society, promoting the value of culture as a means of social integration. Knowledge is promoted and personal growth enhanced for citizens of all ages by means of art exhibitions, concerts, cycles of literature and poetry, debates on contemporary issues, educational and family-oriented workshops and activities designed for senior citizens. The Welfare Project's cultural activities help people discover the great civilisations of the past as well as the latest ideas in art, music and thought. All this from a global perspective and attending to the issues of today's world.

With the inauguration of the CaixaForum Madrid, ”la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects has gone further than merely extend its former exhibition rooms in the capital. It has implemented a new concept in social and cultural centres, offering a comprehensive and innovative programme that enhances the integrating capacity of culture and its importance for people's communication and well-being. With this aim in mind, and coinciding with the change in century, in 2001 ”la Caixa” acquired the old Central Eléctrica del Mediodía, reclaiming one of the few jewels of industrial architecture in Madrid's historical centre and converting it into the CaixaForum Madrid, a living centre at the service of each and every citizen.

The old Central Eléctrica del Mediodía, designed in 1899 by architect Jesús Carrasco-Muñoz Encina and engineer José María Hernández, was not only in ruins but was also hemmed in within the densely developed city, detached from the Salón del Prado and with a total capacity of just 2,000 m2. The architectural redesign has increased this capacity five-fold to 10,000 m2 and has put the building back on Madrid's map. This has been possible by incorporating into the new centre the space that was previously occupied by a petrol station at number 36 Paseo del Prado (which blocked any view of the building), now transformed into a new public square for citizens in the heart of their city. The brick facade of the old power plant has also been restored using traditional materials and techniques, regaining its original appearance, and extra volume has been added both above and below the building. The hitherto forgotten power plant now stands proud at number 36 Paseo del Prado, transformed into the CaixaForum Madrid, a centre combining tradition and modernity with a wide range of free activities for people of all ages and interests.

THE OLD BUILDING

"To put the old Central Eléctrica del Mediodía back on the map of the city". This was one of the goals of ”la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects: to reclaim, for Madrid, one of the city's few examples of industrial architecture in its historical centre. The undertaking has not been easy: 40,000 of the 115,000 bricks covering the building have been replaced and the facade had to be stapled and reinforced in order to transform the property into the CaixaForum Madrid. The Central Eléctrica del Mediodía, which had been erected as a large coal-fired power plant to supply electricity to the whole southern sector of Madrid's old town, was in ruins in 2001, the year in which ”la Caixa” bought the property. "There is a general state of neglect and ruin that is gradually and inexorably affecting both the exterior appearance as well as the stability" declared the survey. As its four facades are "grade 3" listed (which means they must remain in keeping with the location) by Madrid's urban development plan or PGOUM, the body of the power plant once again appears as it was originally conceived, albeit with some modifications in order to be able to hold the CaixaForum Madrid.

The old Central Eléctrica del Mediodía was designed in 1899 by architect Jesús Carrasco-Muñoz Encina and engineer José María Hernández, following a request by José Batlle, on the site of the old La Estrella candle factory, licensed since 1857. The block of buildings, covering 1,934 m2, is made up of Calle Gobernador to the north, Calle Almadén (formerly Travesía de Fúcar) to the south, Calle Cenicero to the east and Calle Alameda to the west. After quite an eventful administration procedure, the power plant was finally inaugurated in March 1901 and soon became one of the key plants in Madrid. One of the building's original features is the finish given to the main facades.

THE ARCHITECTURAL PROJECT

Seductive, daring, attractive and lightweight. That is the CaixaForum Madrid, a new sculptural building that has cost over 60 million euros. Where previously there was a petrol station and an old power plant, hemmed in, neglected and losing its brickwork day by day, there has now emerged a brand-new social and cultural centre, a place where yesterday and today have joined hands. Yesterday is made up of four facades whose traditionally crafted bricks have been replaced one by one, using the limestone mortar and tools of a century ago, and whose new appearance reminds us of the glorious past of the hundred year old Central Eléctrica del Mediodía. Today is made up of an impressive body enveloped in cast iron panels that crowns the power plant and enhances the splendour of the old building.

"Not being able to start from scratch and having to respect the outer layer of brick, protected as Madrid's heritage and indicative of its early industrial era, has not been a handicap but has forced us to look for particular solutions in designing a unique and remarkable building". These are the words of Herzog & de Meuron, the people responsible for the spectacular reconditioning and extension of the Central Eléctrica del Mediodía. There were four basic principles in the strategy used by these Swiss architects: to restore the brick outer layer using traditional techniques, to get rid of the stone base around the power plant, to open up a new public square with an entrance on Paseo del Prado and to add volume. The result is a surprising building that, supported on three unique pillars, seems to levitate above the new square created by ”la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects and Madrid Council for the city. Whereas the capacity of the old power plant was 2,000 m2, the 10,000 m2 of CaixaForum Madrid are more than able to accommodate the extensive programming of ”la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects.

A BUILDING THAT COMBINES TRADITION AND MODERNITY IN THE HEART OF MADRID

The 2,000 m2 of the old Central Eléctrica, multiplied by five, total 10,000 m2: those of the CaixaForum Madrid. Getting rid of the petrol station, suspending the building on three pillars and excavating underneath the entire public square have given rise to the new Social and Cultural Centre of ”la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects, which is distributed on seven levels: two basement floors, a ground floor that continues the public square and covers it, with an entrance at number 36 Paseo del Prado, and four upper floors. The interior is full of surprises, playing with materials and shapes. The labyrinthine shape of the last floor (restaurant and administrative offices), dotted by six irregular niches that let in natural light and with its galvanised iron blinds, contrasts with the exhibition halls (second and third floor), these being two spacious, simple and flexible spaces.

The lobby walls (first floor), accessed via a winding ceremonial staircase that starts in the covered square on the ground floor, are made of concrete, while the foyer and auditorium (first and second basement floors) are covered by deployé type expanded sheet metal mesh, creating an undulating, dynamic structure. The floors of the foyer and auditorium are laid with American oak, the lobby with triangles of stainless steel and the art galleries with continuous white terrazzo paving. The centre holds a 311-seat auditorium, a foyer on two levels, private parking, two conference rooms, a store for artwork, a lobby, a bookshop, VIP room, two floors dedicated to exhibitions with a total of four spaces and two multipurpose halls, an educational service, restaurant and offices. The inside of the building is accessed at a single point: via a ceremonial staircase starting in the public square.

THE NEW PUBLIC SQUARE

A new and spectacular perspective has opened up at number 36 Paseo del Prado: the CaixaForum Madrid seems to 'levitate' over a large, irregularly shaped public square, open on all four sides and covering a surface area of 2,500 m2. This new public esplanade, created for Madrid in its historical centre, is bordered to the north by Calle Gobernador, to the south by Calle Almadén, to the east by Paseo del Prado and to the west by Calle Alameda. The square is made up of three sub-squares: the area previously occupied by a petrol station (bordering Paseo del Prado and open air), the area of the ground floor of CaixaForum Madrid (covered) and the extension that had been limited before the conversion work by the old power plant courtyard (bordering Calle Gobernador and also open air).

The square has been paved with concrete triangles that form planes at different angles. The roof of the covered part of the square is also made up of irregular, out of plane triangles, in line with the system of the structure, placed at different angles and finished with metal panels. There are also two ornamental fountains in the public square.

THE VERTICAL GARDEN

"Plants don't need earth: only water, minerals, light and carbon dioxide". Based on this simple axiom, Patrick Blanc built his first vertical garden in 1988, specifically in La Villette in Paris. Today his invention can be seen in cities all over the world: Paris, Brussels, New York, Osaka, Bangkok, New Delhi and Genoa, to name just a few. The vertical garden of the CaixaForum Madrid is not only the first to be installed in Spain but also the largest implemented to date on a facade without gaps, as it has a planted surface area of 460 m2. The result is a surprising, multicoloured 'living painting' that, in addition to being visually attractive, also acts as an effective environmental agent. The vertical garden forms an impressive natural tapestry made up of 15,000 plants of 250 different species that have transformed one of the buildings adjoining the developed area of the CaixaForum Madrid into a surprising garden. The wall covers the entirety of the adjoining building at the edge of the new public square that provides access, from Paseo del Prado, to the CaixaForum Madrid at its northern end; in other words, the wall next to number 34 Paseo del Prado.

30 YEARS WITH ART

The CaixaForum Madrid is taking over from two other sites previously run by the ”la Caixa” Foundation in the capital, pioneers in exhibiting modern and contemporary art from Spain in the eighties: the exhibition rooms in Paseo de la Castellana (1980-1985) and the rooms in Calle Serrano (1985-2006). Both have held emblematic exhibitions for Spanish art, such as Other figurations (1982) and In three dimensions (1984), which provoked great interest abroad, promoting artists such as Miquel Barceló, Juan Muñoz and Cristina Iglesias. With regard to international art, exhibitions for individual artists were held for the first time in Spain, the artists concerned being as fundamental as Marcel Duchamp, Amedeo Modigliani, Giorgio Morandi, Enzo Cucchi and Francesco Clemente, among others. There were also collective exhibitions such as Italia aperta (1985), Art and its double: a perspective on New York (1987) and The wild garden (1991), which publicised more recent international art. The exhibition rooms in Calle Serrano also held exhibitions of classical art and art from other cultures. Among the most popular exhibitions were Kandisky/Mondrian: two paths towards abstraction, with 82,281 visitors (1994) and Pre-Raphaelites: the view of nature, which received 97,942 visitors (2005).

Now, the CaixaForum Madrid has moved beyond art exhibitions and, with this art nouveau building, has created an exemplary Social and Cultural Centre. In 1993, the emblematic Gran Hotel de Palma, designed in 1903 by architect Domènech i Montaner following the typical style of the large European hotels of the time, became the headquarters for the CaixaForum Palma, and in 2002 CaixaForum Barcelona opened its doors in the old art nouveau textile factory known as Casaramona, designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch and constructed between 1910 and 1912.