Saturday, 19 December 2009

San Antón Market, Chueca

This is gonna be a rant about architecture and fake bricks. Sorry.

When we moved into Plaza de Chueca, Madrid a couple of years ago, there was a fenced-off hole in the ground directly opposite the entrance to the Plaza, on Calle Augusto Figueroa. A sign announced it to be the site of the new Mercado de San Antón (I have no idea if there had previously been a market on the site, and if there had been, what happened to it). While the Barceló market was only a few blocks away, we awaited developments with interest. The site appeared to be dormant for about eighteen months, when suddenly it sprang to life, in November 2008. The grotty graffiti- and fly-poster-covered fence was removed and replaced with a tall and shiny corrugated aluminium barrier (and a week later it too was bespattered by graffiti and fly-posters). Site huts were installed, followed a few days later by a tower crane that moved so much in the wind we were convinced it would not survive the construction process.

And a few days later, up went the sign with an 'artists impression' of what it would look like.

Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt.
What the fuck is that? It looks like the very worst of British municipal 'architecture' from the seventies - and I should know, I grew up in the town that invented it. I stared at the sign in disbelief, trying to analyse what this picture is telling me. Okay, Keefie, take a deep breath. Right. It looks like a two-storey monolithic podium. At the ground level, it's clad in black stuff: can't tell what it is. There don't seem to be any openings like doors or windows in it on the main street elevation. Above that, the first storey seems to be clad in pinky-red tiles or brick slips*, arranged vertically. Looks like the top floor splits into two chunks with a gap in the middle suggesting a light-well or atrium. And this level is clad in golden tile or brick.

I rush home to get my camera: I have to document this. It must be a mistake. The Municipality has held a design competition, and this was the losing entry but a junior clerk was given the job of ordering the sign and supplied the wrong image. Hohoho, how they will laugh when they realise the mistake.

After a lengthy delay while the contractors built two levels of underground parking, the concrete superstructure began to emerge. Oh. My. God. It wasn't a mistake, they were actually building the shite in the picture. At this point we felt obliged to move a long way away.

A few weeks ago, I was showing our visitors around central Madrid, and we went into Chueca. The building is very well advanced: only a few weeks from completion, I guess. It's far, far worse than the 'artists impression'.

Oh, man, this is just awful. My pictures probably don't do it justice, but you have vast expanses of one batch of brick slips, interspersed with a different batch that should be the same colour, but is different enough to make it look like the cock-up it is. And because the 'architect' has designed this abomination with no surface relief whatsoever, your eyes are drawn to the errors. The corners are awful: there's no pretence that this is real brickwork (because it very obviously isn't) - maybe the 'architect' thought he was making some kind of ironic post-modern joke, because if you were actually building this thing in brick it would fall down: the brick slips cladding the first floor are stuck onto the concrete as if they were tiles (which they are, of course): around the corner they are stuck on in a stretcher bond pattern. It's just too awful for words.

And look, look! Down that little street, how this blank, ugly facade says 'fuck you, hombre' to the delicately detailed buildings around it.

Well, you know, 'fuck you' can sometimes work extremely well in historic urban contexts. But the building doing the fucking had better be good enough (go to St Mary Axe in London and see how Number 30 just completely ignores its context, but you don't actually care because that is one helluva gorgeous building).

So, early next year this hideous affront to the fine-grained architecture of Chueca will open. Graffiti artists will abseil from the roof and decorate it. I might be one of them.

*Brick slips - just like normal bricks - same material, same texture - but only a centimetre thick: used when you want to convey the impression of bricks in an unsuitably bricky context.


Lee said...

There was a market there,but it was in really poor shape (it was very old). I can't believe they let them build something so grotesque in Chueca.

Seabee said...

It never ceases to amaze me that not only the architect but all the people in the approval chain can get it so wrong so often all over the world.

the real nick said...


Worry not; I bet soon the entire facade will be covered in bright and shiny billboards and other signage!

the real nick said...


Contrary to common belief (we) architects are not all geniuses! And above all remember that it takes a good client to make good architecture.

As a place like Dubai demonstrates, halfwitted megalomaniacs with halfbaked aspirations inspire crap. On the other end of the spectrum, more democratic planning procedures do not guarantee quality either. Ill-guided officials in local councils all over Europe are susceptible to persuasion by shiny visuals by bad 'commerical' architects. And the odd backhander, of course.