from Core-form to Art-form
Concrete and the Art of Dressing a Building _ Nelson Mota
Throughout the last century reinforced concrete was often the vehicle for stressing modernity’s universalizing vocation, but it was also used to translate vernacular references. Its acceptance by the general public was, nonetheless, rarely unanimously welcomed. Generally speaking, concrete used as both a building’s structural or finishing material became fetishized by architects and disliked by the general public. And nowadays, after being widespreadly used for more than a century, some questions arise: Is concrete still perceived as a strange component of the built environment? Or, otherwise, is it already a common presence in our everyday? Is this material still embedded with such properties as to grant it the status of a privileged support for avant-garde architectural expressions, or has its use already become routine?
In the post-war architectural culture, the use of concrete nurtured intense debates on the seemingly blurred boundary between ethics and aesthetics in architectural approaches, as Reyner Banham famously posited it in his writings on “The New Brutalism.” Architects were then fully exploring the potential of reinforced concrete both as a “structural-technical” and as a “structural-symbolic” material. They were thus divided between the use of concrete as a straightforward structural element or as a material to “dress” a building.
This dialectical relation between the technical and symbolic assertions on the use of concrete endures in contemporary architectural culture. However, while the use of concrete for its static properties became routine, its use as a building’s finishing material is still profoundly charged. Its reception by the public generates binary reactions, and architects seldom use it in a neutral manner. It is, otherwise, often chosen to make a statement, to deliver an unequivocal approach to a given material circumstance or a socio-political context. Today, concrete has become a manifesto-material, one that architects need to master in the art of dressing a building.
An Urban Facelift
An Urban Facelift _ Marta Gonzalez Anton
When in 1788 Francisco de Goya painted The Meadow of San Isidro, a painted sketch for a series of tapestries that would decorate some of the rooms at the El Pardo Palace, he was not only depicting a meadow, but the traditions of an idealized and harmonious mix of the different classes and social strata (an illustration idea beloved by the royalty, the target and client of this particular painting). In his costumbrista painting he shows us a crowd lying on the gentle slopes enjoying the rest of a bank holiday after attending a mass on the hermitage devoted to the city’s patron saint. Courtesans, majos, fair sellers, vendors and all kinds of people are shown socializing during the festivities. All types of vehicles—from cabriolets, barouches, berline carriages and chariots for the courtesans to sprung carts for the more humble citizens—round out the illustration of the overall scene.
The renowned Spanish master was also leaving us one of his few landscapes, a view of Madrid across the Manzanares River from the fields of Carabanchel, by then a summer recreation area for the aristocracy and gentry of the capital to the south. Church domes and towers and the bulk of the Royal Palace, rising above the mild knolls on the opposite river bank, are recognizable in the distance. The village of Carabanchel as known by Goya was a residential and resort town for the upper class of the capital, who built their houses and mansions on a predominantly agrarian landscape. Its population at that time barely exceeded 2,800.
The morphology and population of Carabanchel have changed a great deal since then. Nowadays, it is one of the most populated districts of the capital. It was among the towns in the area annexed to the municipality of Madrid in the late 40’s, with the aim of making this latter city similar in size and importance to other European capitals.
The name of Carabanchel in the collective subconscious is associated with the prison ordered to be constructed there by Franco. This prison, erected by the forced labor of political prisoners in 1940 immediately after the civil war, sheltered regular prisoners for decades but also held political opponents of the dictatorship of the Franco regime (1939-1975). During those decades the population of Carabanchel district grew significantly, especially in the 60’s and 70’s, when it absorbed a great immigration flow from rural areas of the country. In the last decades of the XX century, the district received part of the immigration wave from South America. Its population, predominantly low–middle working class, rose to 260,000 inhabitants in 2011.