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Herzog & de Meuron

By Francesco Pagliari -

Located in Madrid’s ‘museum mile’ where the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums cluster, the CaixaForum designed by the Herzog & de Meuron practice is a new architectural focal point, a magnet for a wide range of exhibitions, performing arts and community activities especially in the contemporary arts. The architecture is worthy of the complex programme. The CaixaForum building is a keenly honed restoration and expansion of a former industrial complex, the Central del Mediodìa electricity power station whose northlight roof, brick perimeter walls and richly decorated windows were a major industrial landmark of Madrid’s 20th century urban fabric.
It was this monumental presence that Herzog & de Meuron took on.
The aim: to transform the architectural and urban function of the building and so its urban context. The result is a new public space and a new public square linking the CaixaForum with the Paseo del Prado. A vertical garden designed by Patrick Blanc has also been added. This wall of cascading vegetation forms a striking nature feature alongside the CaixaForum building, not least for the numerous plant varieties it contains, in appropriate proximity to the Botanical Gardens. Much of the brick perimeter of the former power station has been left intact and incorporated into the new building. The old structure now lends a solid materiality to the new building.
The first step in the transformation was what Herzog & de Meuron call their “surgical operation”: sectioning the pre-existing block and eliminating the plinth on which it rested. CaixaForum now seems to hover off the ground. The 2500 sq m of virtually unencumbered space underneath forms a large covered square for pedestrian through traffic, the triangular geometry of the ceiling a series of dramatic crystalline volumes.
The covered square provides access to the two separate parts of the building: two underground floors, and four above ground levels. The...

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