Spanish architecture of the 20th century has exhibited a dynamic eclecticism that is rooted in the country’s turbulent political history and in the persistent individualism of its historically autonomous provinces. The Castilian capital of Madrid and the Catalonian capital of Barcelona were the epicenters of the nation’s architectural achievement throughout much of the century, each having gained international recognition for both their architecture schools and their architects of distinction.
By the early 20th century, Barcelona’s dramatic population growth prompted city officials to address its urban expansion through an international competition that was ultimately won by the French Beaux-Arts architect Léon Jaussely (1875–1932), whose scheme was modified for implementation in 1917. At the same time, Antoni y Cornet Gaudí’s (1852–1926) idiosyncratic use of Art Nouveau, Gothic, and Moorish influences, evident in such projects as the Sagrada Familia (Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, 1882–1926), dominated Catalan modernisme, a regional movement characterized by an interest in aesthetic and political separatism coupled with a respect for traditional craftsmanship and a personalized vocabulary of ornamentation. His structural experimentation and militant interest in creating a distinctively regional form of architecture had a profound impact on his contemporaries, Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1849–1923) and Josep Puig i Cadafalch (1869–1957), as well as subsequent generations of Barcelonese architects.
Antonio Palacios y Ramilo (1876–1945) was the primary architectural force in the Spanish capital of Madrid. His grandiose Palacio de Correos y Communicaciones (1918) went beyond the city’s Beaux-Arts classicism and its neo-Plateresque references in its free use of space and light as well as in its indebtedness to the Wagnerschule of Vienna. Palacios’ role as a professor at the Escuela de Arquitectura de Madrid (ETSAM) and as an academician of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando ensured his impact on early 20th-century Madrileño architecture; his brand of Beaux-Arts eclecticism came to populate the Gran Via, a major artery through the city’s old slums that was created between 1910 and 1930.
Fernando Garcia Mercadal (1895–1984), a 1921 graduate of ETSAM, led the group of young architects known as the “Generation of 1925” to embrace contemporary architectural avant-gardism after spending four years traveling on a Pension de Roma (Rome Prize) study grant. His encounters with Peter Behrens (1920), Josef Hoffmann (1924), Le Corbusier (1925), and Adolf Loos (1927) led him to introduce certain rationalist tendencies in such projects as his small pavilion, the Rincón de Goya (1928, demolished in the Spanish civil war), in Zaragoza. In April of the same year, García Mercadal edited an issue of La Gaceta Literaria (The Literary Gazette) that was dedicated solely to the theme “New Art in the World: Architecture, 1928” and that featured an illustrated survey of the Dessau Bauhaus, quoted passages by Henry Van de Velde and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, as well as essays written by some of García Mercadal’s leading contemporaries. The group’s crowning achievement, the Madrid university campus (1936), reconciled avant-garde eclecticism with the new rationalism but was largely destroyed during the Spanish civil war (1936–39).
Bauhaus utopianism directly impacted the Spanish architectural scene of the 1930s after Mies van der Rohe inaugurated his German Pavilion at the Barcelona International Exhibition of 1929. Standing for less than eight months, this linchpin of 20th-century avant-gardism provided a fluid architectural space of glass, water, marble, and travertine and came to epitomize the precepts of the International Style.
The creation in 1930 of the Grupo de Arquitectos y Técnicos Españoles para la Arquitectura Contemporánea (GATEPAC) in Zaragoza was of significant importance to the promotion in Spain of utopian modernism by the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) and the Comité International pour la Realisation des Problèmes d’Architecture Contemporaine (CIRPAC). GATEPAC’s rationalist aims, articulated in the magazine A.C. (1931–27) and manifested in the early works of the Catalonian Josep Lluís Sert (1902–83), came to be associated with the International Style and especially the architecture of Le Corbusier. The Catalonian group of GATEPAC forged direct connections with the Swiss visionary: at the Fourth CIRPAC Congress, Le Corbusier assisted the group in designing a new urban study for the city of Barcelona (Macià plan, 1935).
The rise of modernist architecture was stemmed by the Spanish civil war and the establishment of the Franco regime (1939–75), which ultimately resulted in the dissolution of GATEPAC and the exodus of many of the nation’s leading architects, including Sert, who became dean of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Architects remaining in Spain were disconnected from the world’s architectural community: access to documentation and foreign-language publications was minimalized under Franco’s censors, and much of the Madrid Architecture Library had been destroyed during the war years. Public building projects encouraged during the early years of the dictatorship were generally antimodernist, with autarchic tendencies gleaned from the classical architectural tradition in Spain, in which mimetic references to Rome’s legacy on the Iberian peninsula and Philip II’s El Escorial (1582, Juan Bautista Toledo and Juan de Herrera), the Renaissance palace and monastery outside Madrid, were highly desirable. The Catalan-born José Antonio Coderch y de Sentmenat (1913–84) was the most remarkable architect of the period. His ability to reconcile GATEPAC-era rationalism, the vernacular traditions of Mediterranean villa architecture, the Scandinavian organicism of Eric Gunnar Asplund and Alvar Aalto, and the austere outlines and creative spatial layouts of Bruno Zevi resulted in private seaside homes of great ingenuity. His use of local materials, in many instances brick and tile, along with a so-called deep plan, became characteristics of the later Barcelona School (e.g., Ugalde House, 1952, in Caldes d’Estrac; Apartment Building, 1954, in La Barceloneta).
During the early 1950s, Spain’s autarchic isolationist philosophy dissipated; new interchanges were established with democratic nations, and Spain’s economic system was bolstered by a new liberalism and a sizable monetary credit from the United States.
In Barcelona, “Group R” (1951–59) sought an imbrication of the regional Catalonian architectural tradition with the rationalist idiom of such exiled architects as Sert. Meeting formally for some eight years and organizing courses such as “Economics and Urban Development” and “Sociology and Urban Development,” this group eventually transformed into the so-called Barcelona School. Studio Per, Josep Martorell Codina (1925–), Ricardo Bofill Levi (1939–), Oriol Bohigas Guardiola (1925–), and others were able to explore the Group R ideals of rationalism and “poetic realism” under the Franco regime primarily through commissions from the private sector (such as Editorial Gustavo Gili, 1961, Bassó and Gili; Argentona House, 1955, Martorell and Bohigas; and Meridiana Building, 1966, MBM). The Barcelona School came to reject the notion of a utopian industrialized society and sought to redefine local and traditional construction processes; as such, it was especially influenced by English New Brutalism and Italian neorealism.
Contemporary attempts to establish connections with international modernism remained isolated in Madrid and were dependent on the influx of translated versions of such authors as Zevi and Sigfried Giedion and the increasing ability for Spaniards to travel outside the Iberian peninsula. Historian Juan Daniel Fullaondo, inspired especially by the antirationalist leanings of Zevi, sought to create a new Madrid School around the peri-odical Nueva Forma (New Form), and the Galician architect Alejandro de la Sota(1913–) adopted an essentialist language far removed from the Franco regime’s ideological framework of isolation and tradition (for example Gobierno Civil, 1957, in Tarragona). Nonetheless, it was not until José Antonio Corrales (1921–) and Ramón Vázquez Molezún (1922–) unified a simple geometric form on an irregular multileveled site at the Exposition Universelle et Internationale in Brussels that a new era of freedom in Spanish architecture was launched (Spanish Pavilion, 1958, World Expo).
From the 1960s on, as the urban fabric of Spain’s leading cities continued to stretch along with the nation’s economic expansion, many of its architects became increasingly engaged in solving problems associated with postindustrial urbanization, such as public housing, integration between architecture and landscape, and the design of transportation infrastructures. The cities of Barcelona, Madrid, and Bilbao became epicenters of public architecture with a social conscience as their perimeters burgeoned with shantytowns of displaced workers from the country’s impoverished regions. A prominent advocate of the primacy of the individual in an urban context, Coderch devoted the last decade of his life to reconciling the autonomous apartment unit with the unified apartment block. After nearly three decades of isolation from the world scene, Spanish architecture as a whole became more widely disseminated in publications and exhibitions and more prominently recognized as an increasing number of the nation’s architects began to gain international attention and acclaim.
General Franco’s death in November 1975 propelled Spanish culture into a period of significant changes; especially marked was the change from an authoritarian regime to a constitutional monarchy and a democratic state as well as the partial restoration of the nation’s historically autonomous provinces, which resulted in a renewed fervor to mark the built environment with an emphatically regionalist aesthetic. Additionally, the country’s architecture schools notably underwent significant modifications: increased staffing by professional architects, greater specialization and diversification, and an interest in redefining the architectural school as an intellectual forum. In the early 1970s, the contemporary design theories of Aldo Rossi’s L’architettura della città (1966; Architecture and the City) and Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) became available in Castilian translations, and a number of new Spanish architectural publications emerged, most notably the Italian-influenced 2C Construcción de la Ciudad (1972–85; Construction of the City) and the more pragmatic Catalonian Arquitectura Bis (1974 and later).
Oriol Bohigas, who in 1981 became the director of urbanism for the City of Barcelona, promoted a regionalist urbanization program for the Catalonian capital. In the process, much of the city was redesigned, and its distinctive neighborhoods, or barrios, were revitalized with new plazas and parks. Helio Piñón (1942–) and Alberto Viaplana’s (1933–) minimalist Plaça dels Països Catalans (1983, also called the Plaza de la Estación de Sants, designed along with Enric Miralles) was the first of a series of urban spaces called plazas duras (“hard” squares) created under Bohigas’ administration that helped establish Barcelona as a leading center of modern urban renewal and the host for the 1992 summer Olympic Games.
In 1986, the Andalusian capital of Seville was officially proclaimed the site of the 1992 Universal Exposition commemorating the fifth centenary of the discovery of America. This selection, as in the case of Barcelona, prompted a large-scale urban-renewal program that included the redesign of the city’s transportation and communication infrastructures and the renovation of the so-called La Cartuja district, a man-made “island” along the Guadalquivir River. Neorationalist adherent Rafael Moneo (1937–) sensitively designed the new airport to reflect its Sevillian roots, with austere Moorishinspired arches and a series of blue domes illuminated by a central oculus. Moneo’s former students Antonio Cruz Villalón and Antonio Ortiz García created the Santa Justa Railway Station, a project that aligned the new transportation hub with a distinctively Spanish Postmodernism.
The Franco regime’s continued promotion of mimetic architectural historicism deterred many young Spanish architects of the 1980s from utilizing a postmodernist idiom; however, Bofill and Oscar Tusquets (1941–) adopted postmodern tendencies that are evident in the former’s INEF Building (1991) and the latter’s Más Abello Housing Complex (1990), both in Barcelona. A more expressive architectural language, the inheritor of the legacy of Antoni Gaudí, was adopted by the Valencia-born Santiago Calatrava (1951–), whose bridge and recent museum designs are neosurrealist versions of avian osteomorphic forms.
In the latter decades of the century, both public and private sectors have contributed significantly to the advance of innovative architecture by employing progressive young architects. Regions such as the Basque provinces, Andalusia, and Valencia—bolstered by the economic expansion correlated to the nation’s acceptance into the European community in 1986—have promoted highly individualized and internationally recognized building projects, including Frank Gehry’s titanium-sheathed Guggenheim Museum (1997) in Bilbao and Giorgio Grassi’s University Library (1999) on the Nou-Campus in Valencia.
KELI E. RYLANCE
Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.3. Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.