Friday, May 1, 2009

Palacio de Cristal, Madrid

One of the areas I'd hoped to post on in the blog was great or interesting buildings I've liked. A combination of circumstances (a remark by Kent, a recent Laing visit to Spain) has led me to start this informal series of quirky wonders with an oddity in Madrid.

Growing up near the site of the original Crystal Palace in South London, including a few tenuous connections has meant I've always had a fascination with the buildings of the Great Exhibition era - an era where the majority of the buildings have been lost. One of the tributes to the original Crystal Palace is this little beauty in the Parque del Buen Retiro on the Paseo Duque de Fernán Nuñez, in Madrid.

A tribute to the original Crystal Palace, the Palacio de Cristal was built by Ricardo Velázquez for the 1887 exhibition on the Philippines - then a Spanish colony, and it was to be a magnificent hothouse displaying exotic plants, flowers and animals from there. It must've been amazing.

When Bev and I visited Madrid and saw it in 2000, it was most impressive, but the stark - mostly empty - interior seemed small and cramped, with some pretty uninteresting modern art. However the exterior views, and the play of light, and framing, the colourful Spanish tiling was something else. (This interesting architecture website has a couple of good views, including an interior.)

Apparently, it was built in 5 months. For the technical details, the Madrid tourist board website has the following summary:

This singular building is 54 metres long, 28 metres wide and 22.6 metres high at its highest part, and stands on a brickwork base decorated with a fine ceramic frieze.

It is laid out in the shape of a Greek cross in imitation of the cross and chancel of a church. The entrance door, which is in the Ionic style, takes the place of one of the arms of the cross. In front of this door lies a lake, surrounded by vegetation.

The architect and engineer Alberto del Palacio collaborated in the construction of the barrel vaults and the four sections of the glass dome. Another interesting feature is the decoration of the tiles by Daniel Zuloaga.

A couple of poorly researched references imply it's built with a steel framework. It's not, of course, but of cast iron, one of the great materials of the Industrial Revolution, and an architectural material that is overlooked today, mostly because of its technical redundancy. That said, the best ironwork structures (rather than the still impressive iron decoration we see) are a class of delight of their own. For me they take the flying buttress level of cathedral architecture a step further with earthy, light and strong tracery.

It's odd that, rather like an inverted Tardis, it's more impressive outside-looking in, than inside-looking-out. However, even with that caveat, it's certainly on my list of wonderful buildings of the world. I remember wandering around it, trying different ways of looking at it with, and without my camera. It's a treasure.


1 comment:

Dawn said...

Lovely post - my great grandfather (I think that's enough greats) was a porter at the Crystal Palace in London. I have often imagined the wonderful and strange things he must have moved around that space.

Thanks for sharing these pictures.