Store of knowledge
Century-old brick warehouses and brewery buildings smarten up at Madrid's municipal library-archive complex by Mansilla + Tuñón
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 10/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
"It's never been in the Spanish mentality to rehabilitate our architectural heritage," Ainoa Prats of Mansilla + Tuñón Arquitectos explains. "This project can be considered the first where the political will existed to transform industrial buildings into a cultural facility."
This particular facility is the Biblioteca Regional de Madrid Joaquín Leguina, the archive and library where all books published in the Spanish capital are deposited, along with every document relating to municipal administration. Situated in the Arganzuela district, near Rafael Moneo's Atocha station, the sprawling complex represents part of Madrid's efforts to extend its cultural axis farther south, to an area traditionally forgotten by the authorities.
The city block now occupied by the library and archive once belonged to a brewery, El Aguila, and not much more was known about its abandoned buildings. After winning the competition for the project, principals Luis M. Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón managed to discover only that the earliest brick structures dated from about 1913. Others were added up to the 1970's, the old mixed with the new. Covered in graffiti, they were rented out for film shoots and raves. Two floors of one building still held huge brewing vats.
Madrid authorities determined that certain brick buildings had to be preserved. In addition, Mansilla + Tuñón retained the steel barley silos—as an industrial icon for the area—and transform them into the library's stacks. The architects razed many of the other brewery buildings and replaced them with four larger ones. Some stand only 13 feet apart, permissable because of existing footprints, and several are linked by enclosed bridges.
The complex now comprises three distinct units. The library proper consists not only of the barley silos but also of an administration building, a delivery and registry facility for arriving books, and an old malt house, now converted into reading rooms and a music, film, and video library. The archive comprises three buildings: a delivery and repair facility and a depository for municipal documents, both new construction, as well as a brick warehouse renovated to hold offices and a reading room. Finally, there's a new cultural center with an auditorium and exhibition space.
For new buildings, Mansilla + Tuñón deliberately adopted an industrial aesthetic and limited the construction materials to brick, glass, steel, wood, and white concrete. That's typical of the practice's approach: laying down initial restrictions and creating multiple combinations using very few elements. Inside, floors are wood or treated concrete. Facades, meanwhile, are mostly translucent channel glass, as are walls in the renovated library building's lobby. "We used the same materials for the interior of the rehabilitated buildings and the exterior of the new ones, as if we turned a sock inside out," says Tuñón.
Two layers of channel glass, 27 inches apart, surround the new municipal depository. In the gap between the layers, the architects inserted fluorescent lighting, which makes the building glow in the dark. Behind the glazing run perimeter corridors, buffers helping guarantee that the documents stored at the core of each floor plate are kept at a constant temperature.
Because the depository's six floors are identical, Mansilla + Tuñón assigned each a distinguishing color—chosen from the collected correspondence of art historians John Berger and John Christie, I Send You This Cadmium Red…. Among those picked: a sunny yellow, Yves Klein blue, and a red used by German artist Joseph Beuys. In the new delivery and repair facility, cross beams painted three different reds give a nod to the brick of surrounding buildings.
In the malt house turned library, Mansilla + Tuñón conserved a number of original features. The conical forms of smaller steel silos descend from the building's wooden roof beams, left exposed in the top floor's music, film, and video library. Three reading rooms' old steel columns, however, are now enclosed in oak constructions recalling the profile of Constantin Brancusi's famous column. In the lobby atrium, balconies exhibit brewery equipment discovered on the site—a more vivid chronicle of the library's past than any history book.