If Antonio Palacios would have had his way, you would now be living in a city crammed with cathedral-like buildings serving as hotels, art centres and government buildings. Sol would have been ellipse-shaped surrounded by enormous structures mainly consisting of towers, pillars and domes; furthermore, the Paseo del Prado would have been a constant stream of colossal architecture.
The Galician architect did not find enough support and funding in his lifetime (1872-1945) for his all-encompassing plan for the capital and was restricted to individual projects only. Nonetheless, Madrid would have been a completely different city without him. More than Gaudí for Barcelona did Palacios turn Madrid from a big village into a metropolis.
Do you remember the surprise when you looked at the huge white curly wedding cake on Cibeles and you were told that this was just the post office? The Casa de Correos was one of the first assignments in Palacios’ career. It was a ridiculously big post office at the time -10.500 meters squared for a city of only 600.000 people, while London had to get by with 4.800 meters squared for 6.000.000 Londoners – and it was soon nicknamed Nuestra Señora de las Comunicaciones, for obvious reasons. Even though you might find this structure over the top, the Casa de Correos is a landmark of Madrid.
And so is the building that now houses the Instituto Cervantes. Or the Circulo de Bellas Artes. Or Hotel Tryp on Gran Via. They are all his designs. Many things have been said regarding the style of these buildings. Palacios could have been influenced by the Greeks, the Vienna style, he could have had American architecture in mind while designing the Circulo de Bellas Artes and he could have tried to create an antidote to fashionable modernism. That might all be true, but Palacios himself once declared to look for universal and long-lasting beauty and not to depend on the latest fashions. Perhaps his designs are a mix of the best of every style.
Put on those shoes for a few examples of his surviving work and do the Grand Palacios’ Madrid Walk:
Casa de Correos (Plaza de Cibeles. 1904-1919) Enter for a look at the imposing halls and floors. Palacios spent a great deal of time on the decoration and the optimisation of the building: the mail had to be handled as efficiently as possible. The post office is sometimes used for artistic performances.
Banco Español del Rio de la Plata (now: Instituto Cervantes. Calle Alcalá 49. 1910-1918) You will find photo’s of the construction of the building inside.
Banco Mercantil y Industrial (now: Com. de Madrid. Calle Alcalá 31. 1935-1943) Last big project of Palacios in Madrid.
Circulo de Bellas Artes (Calle Alcalá 42. 1919-1926) Entrance 1€, but you will be able to see almost the entire building: the theatre, dining rooms, libraries, it is still as Palacio intended it to be. His design was originally rejected for being too high, but Palacios convinced the board that they were measuring the wrong way. More art in the splendid cafetería. The statue on top is Minerva.
Metro Sol (1917-1945). Palacios designed an impressive amount of entrances, staircases and halls for the first few metro lines. He wanted to keep it light and cheerful, because Spaniards were used to so much sun. Countless tiles, lots of light, memorable decorations, but only a few original entrances are left these days. The Metro logo was designed by Palacios as well.
Casa Comercial Palazuelo (Mayor 4 and Arenal 3. 1919-1921) Two addresses, but it is the same building – impressive staircase inside.
Hotel Avenida (Now: Hotel Tryp. Gran Via 34. 1921-1924) and Casa Comercial Matasanz. (Gran Via 27. 1919-1923) Two very nice contributions to Gran Via.
Hospital de Jornaleros (Now: Com de Madrid. Calle Maudes 17, Metro Cuatro Caminos. 1908-1916) Widow Dolores Romero y Arano decided to build a hospital with only free services for the poor workers of the neighbourhood. Palacios designed the extraordinary and mostly forgotten building that is worth the trip. The chapel is accessible for mass and after the end of the current renovations that will last until 2008 there is a small possibility guided tours will be given.
First published on www.MAPmagazine.com, summer 2007