Just when there is a month left for the reopening of Madrid’s Gran Vía metro station and the rebuilt temple that crowns it, the historic Cuatro Caminos garages are demolished to build new homes on their site. Metro Madrid considers the resurrection of this century-old architecture “a tribute”, although there are those who think “none of that”.
A walk along Madrid’s Gran Vía until the junction with Calle Montera shows these days that the construction of a brand new granite structure reminiscent of times gone by is well advanced. It is the temple, topped with a large metal and glass canopy, which will soon lead to the Gran Vía metro station. And it is not a new presence but a kind of return. Because what was there between 1920 and 1970 was the original construction designed by the Galician architect Antonio Palacios (author of other nearby iconic buildings such as the Círculo de Bellas Artes, the Palacio de Comunicaciones or the Edificio de las Caryátides) to serve as access to an elevator surrounded by a spiral staircase that connected the street level with the underground subway station. The temple was dismantled in 1970 and its pieces were transported to O Porriño (Pontevedra), the birthplace of its author, in whose Campo da Feira park is still installed today. What is about to be completed in Madrid is an exact replica, with which the architectural cloning will allow the miracle of the simultaneous existence of two Gran Vía de Antonio Palacios metro pavilions in our country.
The Gran Vía metro station is strategic because it serves as a junction for two of the busiest subway lines (L1 and L5), due to its geographical location in the capital, and because of the iconic authority of its surroundings. It has been closed since August 2018, when expansion works began that have taken longer than expected. But there is already a date for the reopening. “It will be around the 20th or 25th of this month of July”, informs ICON Design Carlos Zorita, head of Infrastructures and Stations of Metro Madrid.
Regarding the decision to rebuild Palacios’ work, he states: “We could have opted for a more conventional solution to accommodate the new entrances, but we saw the opportunity to value an element that was already unique when it was built and during the 50 years that was on duty. It has been a joint effort with the City Council and Heritage, and it is a way of evoking a great architect ”.
Álvaro Bonet, of the private association Madrid Citizenship and Heritage (MCyP) non-profit organization, dedicated to defending and safeguarding the historical, artistic and natural heritage of the Autonomous Community of Madrid, (which tried unsuccessfully to prevent the demolition of the Cuatro Caminos garages), has its own opinion: “It is not a tribute to Palacios, but a bitch. It has been done like everything else in this country, without previous studies and with some unforeseen events that could have been avoided ”.
The Gran Vía de Madrid was planned around the middle of the 19th century, although it did not begin to be undertaken until 1910. Its construction meant the demolition of the buildings that occupied those lots to make way for a more or less homogeneous program of stately buildings. It was executed at different times in sections, which encourages each of them to have a different personality.
The first section, between the streets of Alcalá and Montera, was completed in 1915 and displays facades in an eclectic historicist style, sometimes tending towards the French. The second was closed in 1922 and reaches the Plaza de Callao, and it can be argued that it is the most interesting thanks to buildings such as the Carrión de Luis Martínez-Feduchi Y Vicente Eced and Eced, the Telefónica de Ignacio Cárdenas (which was the first skyscraper in Madrid) or the Palacio de la Prensa de Pedro Muguruza. The third, which ends in the Plaza de España, finished its construction in 1932. The temple of Palacios was installed precisely at the meeting between the first two sections.
If we stick to the objective of preserving the stylistic homogeneity of the urban space, the reconstruction makes sense. This is what Álvaro Bonet himself believes. “From that overall point of view, the action is justified”, he values. “The problem is how they have treated her. Regardless of the fact that it is a copy, its main defect is to consider that the template is an object and not part of a whole, which undermines the operation ”. He assures that, already in 2018, MCyP warned the Community of Madrid in writing that historical elements would be found below. Always according to Bonet, the answer was that, according to his reports, there was nothing of the original left there. “But, indeed, on day one of the excavation everything appeared, and they have demolished it to make a great void.”
Carlos Zorita confirms that these elements have indeed been removed, but also explains to ICON Design that the remains of the original staircase were not the only archaeological remains that appeared in the excavation: “The 1919 well was already removed when in 1969 the Line 5 and new accesses were created, taking away the most superficial part, while the other was buried, and that is the one that has just been discovered. But other older elements have also been found, such as the foundations of the buildings that were expropriated to build the Gran Vía and that were demolished. They had to be removed, but it was done very slowly. This supposed a time of paralysis of the works ”.
Zorita ensures that everything is duly documented in the corresponding archaeological analysis reports (ICON Design has requested access to these reports, but the request has been denied). He also explains that the most relevant findings will be exposed to the public in the metro station itself: “Everything that has appeared has been inventoried, and the most significant thing we will put in value at an intermediate level of passage. For example, a ceramic shield of the elevator shaft infrastructure will be exhibited, as well as different construction elements such as the remains of metal pillars, and objects of the time such as vessels or coins ”.
Álvaro Bonet would have been in favor of another type of operation that combined the reconstruction of the lost temple, the restoration of the historical elements found and the new construction where necessary. But there were other options too. One of them would have been to call a competition for architecture studios that would provide new ideas for access to the station. Bonet does not believe that this was the optimal solution: “Look at the Sol metro access, an example of inadequate design even though it is signed by a good architect like Antonio Fernández Alba. So a new thing doesn’t have to work, while we know that something else does. “
The Puerta del Sol access to which it refers, which contrasts in style and scale with the square in which it is located (already problematic for different reasons), was erected to strong criticism in 2009. This glass and metal canopy that faces two large domes seem to borrow features from the Bilbao metro stations (popularly known there as fosteritos), a design by the British architect Norman Foster that critics perceive as one of the best works of the British architect in our country.
“You have to be careful, because rebuilding can replace restoring and that is not tolerable. If you rebuild a half-demolished castle, no matter how much study or research you carry out, you would fall for the false histories promoted by Viollet-le-Duc “, argues Victoria Soto Caba, professor of Art History at UNED and co-author of a manual for the subject of artistic historical heritage.
The French architect Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc undertook in the 19th century the task of finishing and rebuilding various medieval monuments in his country (including the Notre Dame Cathedral or the Holy Chapel) under a program of nationalist exaltation and based on his principle of unity of style, for which he did not take into account how the buildings were in his day, but how in his opinion they should have been. He was opposed by the theories of the British John Ruskin, who highlighted the value of ruin as the final phase of the life of a construction and a depository of historical memory. Since that polarization, a long time has passed and many letters and manifestos have been published, but in general the false history does not usually convince architects, theorists and restorers.
However, Bonet does not consider it applicable to this case: “I do not think that this reconstruction is untimely. The false historical term is widely abused, and this is not. A Eurodisney-type castle is a false historical. The Temple of Debod, for example, is a hybrid. It is not a false historical as such, although it is completed and relocated, so it does have something false because it is anachronistic and out of place. But the new temple is more or less in its previous location ”.
“Rebuilding is neither a good nor a bad decision, but it gives the feeling that in Madrid people act like a capricious lady who changes the place of furniture every two months: now we bring a sofa here and a table there”, says Soto Caba , which provides other examples: “It makes sense that emblematic buildings are rebuilt when there is an earthquake or a military attack. Consider the destruction of the Syrian city of Palmyra, or Aleppo, which has been an incalculable loss. There is also an important tradition in the reconstruction of historical centers bombed during the Second World War, such as that of Warsaw. The macro-operation of the Aswan dam forced the removal and reconstruction of the Abu Simbel temples. In Spain, new reservoirs required the moving stone by stone of various churches, such as the Galician of Portomarín or the Zamorana of San Pedro de la Nave. But those are estate relocations. Rebuilding historic buildings from the past is an option that leads to interpretation centers. That is if we do not prefer to qualify some performances directly as tacky, a kind of Walt Disney where everything comes in. “
“Speaking of Venice, Salvatore Settis’s warning comes to me [prestigioso arqueólogo y profesor italiano] that reminds us that one of the dangers that threaten the disappearance of the city consists of the loss of the memory of the citizens about it. Heritage helps to link us to the place, to weave the feeling of belonging in front of an ephemeral city of lights and movements. And Cesare Brandi, origin of different current restoration schools, reminds us in his Restoration theory that what we restore is not the matter but the recreation of the experience on it ”, comments the architect and urban planner Pablo Martínez, who has just participated in the Venice Architecture Biennale with his studio 300,000 Km / s.
Martínez demands, above all, that attention be paid to how we act in the configuration of urban space. And he discusses the legitimacy of certain notions of the monumental that seem to concur here: “Copying, restoring or remaking without interacting on the work, without making this process a moment of reflection, only manages to place objects foreign to its inhabitants in our cities, some false monumentalities that hinder contemporary life and disintegrate the communities that they should support. Restoring is not rebuilding. To restore is to accept the inevitable passage of time and the need to reflect on what we want to transmit from the past to the future ”.
For the moment, Antonio Palacios’ first temple remains in O Porriño, oblivious to all these diatribes. “And there it is so richly,” certifies Victoria Soto Caba. “Please don’t move it!”