Madrid is a city with an extensive urban heritage, a city in which there is always something to discover, such as the Brutalism highlighted by the Italian Roberto Conte.
The same thing happens with architectural styles as with artists, there are those that adapt to each role, taking on a wide spectrum of new idiosyncrasies, and there are those that specialize in a role, characterizing the character they represent. Brutalism is an architectural style quite close in time, and its main characteristic makes it stand out from the rest. That is to say: it adapts to multiple configurations maintaining a homogeneous character, a fusion, as scientists would say.
But the term, although it may seem somewhat resounding to us, does not express any violent intention, au contrarie. Brutalism is born from the French words béton brut, something like raw concrete, and that is precisely the quality that defines it. In this type of construction, the concrete is exposed clearly, showing off it and its fantastic qualities: fluidity, with which it adapts to any shape, its compatibility, with which it is excellently combined with other materials, and its durability, which gives it a long life.
The brutalist buildings of Madrid
If we walk through Madrid we can see buildings of almost all the architectural styles that have existed. The Baroque, the Renaissance, Art Deco, Modernism, Deconstructivism, and even some that are yet to be defined. Therefore, it is not surprising that each person can be more attracted to one. This is what happened to the Italian photographer Roberto Conte who, on a recent visit to El País, chose Madrid Brutalism as an object for his camera.
Conte shows us the buildings that he considers to be the most iconic of the imprint of this architectural style, and gives us some very interesting guidelines on their peculiar characteristics. He tells us that the brutalist buildings in Madrid, built between the 60s and 80s, are mostly designed by Spanish architects, even from Madrid. Fernando Higueras Díaz and Antonio Miró Valverde stand out, who created the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain, the «Crown of Thorns», as the property is called. This is an iconic sample representative of Brutalism.
Gray concrete is the greatest expression of Brutalism
The same protagonists created the Princesa Building. It is a property that combines the gray of the concrete with abundant vegetation, with vertical gardens or peeking out from the many enormous balconies. Another architect from Madrid, Antonio Vallejo Acebedo, was responsible for creating the building that is currently run by the General Union of Workers. This building had an impressive atrium on the outside that, according to the Dintel Foundation, exposed a spectacular triangular mesh supported by polygonal pillars that culminated in beautiful capitals. Today it is invisible from the outside, as it is hindered by an enclosure executed a posteriori.
Of course, this list could not miss the most iconic skyscraper in Madrid, a building that is studied in all architecture schools in the country, and in others outside our borders: Las Torres Blancas. The architect Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oíza raised this wonder to 71 meters, divided by 25 floors, where all the apartments enjoy circular sections, creating a unique interior and exterior environment. Conte compares the organic disruptions of the cylinders with some Japanese metabolic solutions.
The churches of Madrid are also Brutalism
Another skyscraper of the time is the Torre de Valencia by the architect Javier Carvajal Ferrer. It is a building that reaches 94 meters in height, which makes it number sixteen on the list of the tallest in the capital. It is a residential building very close to the Retiro Park, which allows unbeatable views from its 27 floors and its large balconies. Obviously, not everyone likes the property, but if you go to the Retreat, surely it has not gone unnoticed.
The churches also mark an interesting aesthetic. There are many that are executed in a brutalist style, such as Our Lady of the Rosary of the Philippines, by Cecilio Sánchez-Robles Tarín, a church inspired by the well-known Le Corbusier. This church presents sober and stylized forms flanking the exterior, while inside a spectacular roof of undulating shapes is formed, an effect that creates a play of light and shadow that direct your gaze to the beam of light that enters directly into the altar.
Spanish architect designs
Another church that Roberto Conte teaches us is the Church of Santa Ana and Hope, designed by the important Spanish architect Miguel Fisac Serna for the suburb of Moratalaz. The building shows a skilful handling of natural light, letting it enter through the back wall, behind the altar, a wall that has large concave spaces drilled into it to house clerical images.
The same architect also executed an office building for IBM in the 1960s, in the same style, although with a simple aesthetic. It repeats the patterns with prefabricated concrete elements, which does not detract one iota from its spectacular nature. Nearby, the Beatriz Building is located, for me one of the best buildings that the cameraman shows us. It was designed by Eleuterio Población Knappe from Huelva and built between 1968 and 1976. An elegant repetition of patterns surrounds the 10-storey office building, with five basements, and a total surface area of 58,000 square metres.
The Faculties of Information Sciences and Biology of the Complutense
The selection shows us a single building whose architect was not from Spain: Los Cubos Building. It was built in 1981 and renovated between 2017 and 2020. Its architects were Michel Andrault, Pierre Parat and Aydin Guvan, and the direction of the work was the responsibility of the architect Luis de la Rica. Other buildings, such as the Faculty of Information Sciences, by José María Laguna Martínez and Juan Castañón Fariña, and the Faculty of Biological and Geological Sciences, by Fernando Moreno Barberá, of the Complutense University of Madrid, are among Conte’s images.
In the end, our retinas get used to cement gray, a color that reflects the sobriety of the material and that stands the test of time with singular ceremoniousness. The buildings have a useful life, but beyond this, they have an identity concept, devised by their author, which should not be happily undermined or changed.