Spanish Organic

[Bravo Charlie Mike Hotel]

Summer is coming to an end and its back to work for the Viewport Studio Team and we had, very nicely, a quick client meeting in Madrid. A tip off from one of our Spanish colleagues sent us off on the metro to check out the Torres Blancas, a wild example of Organic Architecture out on the 8 line highway that links Barcelona to Madrid. This was a good reminder that you don’t have always have to head out to a former Soviet nation to look at experimental concrete buildings.

Built during the 1960s by the architect Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza in conjunction with the forward thinking construction firm of Juan Huarte, it is certainly not white but it is a series of exposed concrete cylindrical towers  with circular balconies and assymetrical rhythms. The whole edifice is intended to be in some way representative of a tree trunk with the flats and balconies as the leaves and branches, in true organic architecture style. The concrete exterior is also broken up by the wooden lattice screens enclosing the balconies, and the wooden scrims that hang from the 12 circular discs, 10m in diameter that crown the towers, as well as the mature planting from the residents’ balconies. The  four apartments per floor (although some are duplexes) are large, starting at 90 square metres up to 300 square metres  – not like anything that would be built in today’s market.  But this development initially took its time to sell – some of the bedrooms were seen as too monastic  – and the planned second tower never happened. Inevitably it has become home to some of Madrid’s leading creative people.

Oiza was heavily influenced by the works of Frank Lloyd Wright – he studied in the USA in the 1940s – and of course Le Corbusier, and on this project he also worked with a young Rafael Moneo, one of Spain’s leading architects of today.

Another important commission for Oiza in Madrid is the 107m high skyscraper Banco de Bilbao Tower, built a decade later (now BBVA), right in the centre of Madrid’s commercial district, which has a striking presence with its bronzed curved glass walls and characteristic steel brises soleils that break up the external surface.

And while we were in town, and as a bit of a bonus to this story, we took a quick look at the Tribunal Constitucional, another important piece of Spanish brutalism designed by Antoni Bonet, who designed one of the great chairs of all time: the Butterfly chair, much copied by the likes of Urban Outfitters and seen on many verandas and in student digs around the world.

The diagonal view of the towers
The large wooden scrims hanging from the top floors
A view of the amazing Torres Blancas
The main street entrance
The incredibly complex floor plan
An old image of the original entrance hall
The concrete almost looks white here. There is some controversy about whether the building was originally intended to be finished in white
The bronzed BBVA Tower in central Madrid
Staring up at the steel mesh brises soleils surrounding the building on three sides
The Tribunal Constitucional by architect and chair designer Antoni Bonet
The Butterfly chair