As you may have noticed, it has been a while since my last blog post. This is due to many things, but primarily due to my semester assignment, and a study trip to Spain. Since these university events are now over, and I have begun my summer vacation, I'll try to be more active with the blog - Starting with a post about the mentioned study trip to Spain.

Before I continue with this post, I have to say, that this is far from my first time in Spain (my sixth, and second in Madrid), so I consider myself somewhat familiar with Spanish culture and the urban life (although my Spanish is rather poor - for now at least!). Our study trip consisted of five days in Madrid and three days in the southern city of Cadiz. The study trip was mainly focused around visiting works of modernist Spanish architects, but also more contemporary architectural works of architectural firms such as Ecosistema Urbano and MVRDV. Our study trip was furthermore a very open one, in the sense that we weren't completely "forced" to follow a schedule to see the sights, but were instead given great freedom to experience the cities and culture as part of the study trip. This also meant frequent daytime siesta sessions, vast amounts of tapas and at times, a sangria or two too many - But experience Madrid and Cadiz, we most certainly did! (the above picture, was one of the views from our apartment - overviewing the rooftops in the area near Puerto del Sol)

There are many a story that can be told about my trip to Madrid and Cadiz, but this being an architectural blog, I'll stick to writing about the buildings we've seen and comment on my opinions on them, as I ever so often do. The first architectural work we visited (well, besides the new Terminal 4 at the Madrid airport, which can easily be considered architecturally noteworthy), was the Caixa Forum in Madrid, designed by Herzog & de Meuron. Before the new building, the site consisted of an old transformer building, as seen on the facade. This old transformer building was lifted up by the architects, to create a shadowy and cool space under the buidling, as a gathering spot for tourists and locals. Furthermore, the building was added two extra stories on top (one including a café). The extra floors consist of a metal structure, with tiny pixelated openings, that give an interesting lighting effect on the interior. The building as a whole is very functional and pleasant, and the space bellow the building, is indeed pleasant and cool, which is rather important during the hot and dry Madrid summers. The building furthermore had a fantastic staircase leading up to the museum lobby, as seen bellow.

Our next stop in Madrid was the Reina Sofia Museum of Art, with a focus on the new Jean Nouvel extension of the museum. This extension stood in great contrast to the existing building, without any reference to the existing one as a matter of fact, which I see as a very negative thing. My friend whom I was visiting the building with, had to go to the toilet really badly, and due to the building's confusing placement of rooms, it took us a great while to find a toilet, and oddly, it was hidden at the second floor in a certain part of the building, in which one definitely wouldn't expect it to be! Furthermore, the fourth floor on the elevator, marked as "terrace", is a floor where you enter a metal room, and can only go down - This was probably one of the most ridicilous architectural rooms I have ever experienced, the type you post to funny picture websites! The actual terrace of the building does offer great views of its area and the red glossy roof does indeed create an interesting effect, but still lacks connection to the original Reina Sofia building. 

Furthermore, the building has a system of terraces, which is a good idea, except that they are all closed. This could've worked out if there was a park system on these terraces, and say, cafés and such. The colors of the building were mostly dark and gray, which really didn't seem to fit in, nor did they create a vibrant feel to area, as intended by the architect. All in all, the idea of making a social area underneath the huge "roof" is interesting, but if you ask me, Jean Nouvel's design has failed to make it so, and instead created a somewhat confusing structure, that doesn't even have the slighest reference to the museum, that it has been built as an extension for.

These were some of the noteable works we saw on the first day. The rest of the day was spent roaming freely around the city without a further organized plan. Already by this point, I have noticed that by telling even the smallest of stories about each of the notable structures that I've seen during this trip, this post will extended to an unbearably long lenght - So I'll try to shorten things down a bit! So on to the second day...

The second day was basically a tour of Madrid's nothern suburban areas. Many a place were visited on this day, but I've cut the sights down to two buildings, which after my oppinion, show a great contrast on the success rate of contemporary architectural development. The first of the two examples, the one above, is a kindergarden (and also community center) designed by the Spanish architectural firm Ecosistema Urbano. This first example was according to me, the positive one. Placed in a lifeless industrial area, this kindergarden building and its surrounding structures have created a triving green park area and a vibrant hang out place for children, teenagers and also adults. The building features many sustainable feats, such as natural ventilation, gray water treatment, natural lighting and many others. Amongst the architectural students at the site, I experienced discussions on the quality of the aesthetics of the building, and it is indeed a subject that can be discussed, but to me, the positive impression was emphasized on the building's achievements in creating a great social and natural area in an industrial neighbourhood, and also its many sustainable feats - which unlike many of the other buildings we visited, were indeed fully functional and successful.

The second building is a social housing highrise project by the somewhat infamous Holland-based MVRDV architects. The main concept of this building is to elevate the traditional "block" apartments into the vertical level, thus creating great views for the residents of the building, and also creating a panorama terrace that allows the residents to hang out at a vertical terrace with a rather dramatic view of Madrid and its surroundings. It all sounds good right? Did the project go as planned? No. Absolutely not. First of all, I'm not a big fan of high rise social buildings. No matter how much decoration is put on the facade, I believe that the massive form of such a structure always ends up being the same old concrete slab. But that is the least of the problems here. The one special feature about the structure - The terrace with the panorama - Has been permanently closed down, due to some party that went wrong with teenagers throwing bottles off the terrace. The building's surrounding "park" consists of a surrounding grass plain, with the grass absolutely dead due to lack of gardening maintenance. So with all this said, we only met two teenage boys outside the building, sitting on a staircase listening to music. They explained that that staircase was the only place left where they could hang out. It was an architectural nightmare to say the least. 

Our last day in Madrid was spent browsing yet a few more in-the-city architectural works, mostly of the early modernist era. The first building on the contrary, was actually one that is still in the process of being built. The building was an extension to the Royal Museum (right next to the Palacio Real). The project for the site was to be a massive extension, that would be built next to two very important historic structures - The Palacio Real, and the Royal Museum building. The architects who won the competition, won due to their clever idea of building this massive extension along a cliff that is situated right by the two structure, this way allowing the new museum extension to still be a massive structure, while also making it discreet along the cliff side, allowing the two historic structures to still stay dominant in the panorama. The building has yet several years before it sees completion, and despite its simple use of rectangular concrete beems, the lighting in the building was fantastic, as my above and bellow photos (hopefully) illustrate. (I forgot to mention that the building is designed by Spanish Mansilla & Tunon)

Once again fast forwarding into the trip, I bring you to Darth Vader's unofficial residence on the humble and somewhat unpopular little planet of Earth (now would be a good time to look at the photo bellow!). There you go! Sci-fi architecture in Madrid! This building is designed by the Spanish architect Francisco Javier Saenz de Oíza and the it was completed in 1969. The building - Torres Blancas (The White Towers) displays the so-called organicismo style - Spanish organic modernism - and is considered to be one of the finest examples of such architecture. The reason for the building being called the White Towers, is because the building was originally supposed to be painted white (and there should've been two of them), but due to economic issues, the contractor was forced to spare the paintjob. Note the time it was built - It is no secret, that the building was also heavily inspired by the space race between the USSR and the USA at the time, with its space age inspired forms. Furthermore, this building is infamous for its confusing and labyrinth-like plan. The building is even considered to have small hidden rooms and such, waiting to be explored!

This was the last official building on our Madrid tour, and the next day, we took the shuttle (shuttle as in bus, unfortunately not a space one!) towards the historic coastal city of Cadíz. On our way, we had a few stops planned, with some architectural sights, but only one of them truely grabbed my attention.

This building is a youth center in Mérida. The building was designed by Selgas Canos - An architectural firm that we visited while in Madrid, and also their residence - A most interesting building, that I have choosen not to upload here due to privacy to their home. A lot of their work is characterized by the use of many bright colors, that often appear to give their buildings great life and make them dynamic. The most notable thing about this project, is probably the impressive organic forms, that were achieved despite a very limited budget. Of what we were told, and what we saw, it seemed that this building, like Ecosistema Urbano's kindergarden, has succeeded in making a pleasant and vibrant environment for teenagers and the local youth. The most characteristic is perhaps the building's skatepark, sitting areas and a climbing wall, that all connect in harmony with the great organic roof structure. The only minus about the building, is that it is surrounded by a fence, and with forbidden entrance when outside working hours. Generally, they seem to have a great security craze in Spain, which results in many beautiful buildings and "public" areas being closed to the general public (which, ironically, is whom they were intended for).

Ah yes. Finally, we came to Cadiz - A lovely historic coastal (former fortress) city, built in the most traditional of Mediterranean styles - Romantic narrow streets filled with pleasant shadows, cafés and the occasional plazas. Few modern buildings were featured on our tour in this city, so we were given great freedom to wander the lovely narrow streets and experience the history of the place, rather than the modern additions. But much of this freedom was also spent on the beach, which we had longed for, for so long, having been stuck on the Spanish mainland with temperatures as high as 43 degrees (C)! We were in Cadiz for only three days, and due to the casual nature of our stay there, I believe it is about the right time to end this rather lengthy post of mine. With that said, all I have to say is, adios amigos!

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P.S. - My next post will (finally) be about my semester assignment.

- Andy Minchev