Saturday, August 1, 2015

Madrid 2014 - Mirador Residence

Very few visitors would venture to see a public housing project, but since we were on an architectural tour that was exactly what we did. Located in Sanchinarro - a suburb in the north east edge of Madrid, this project has received international notice since it was completed in 2005.

This complex was designed by MVRDV - a Dutch firm based in Rotterdam. They have completed a number of innovative public housing projects in Netherlands, and the Mirador reminded me of their Silodam housing project in the Amsterdam Docklands.

The most distinctive feature of the housing block is the large opening in the building. This accommodates a communal space with a great view. There are also many other MVRDV signatures - such as the stacking of different blocks to form the overall composition - and the use of different colours and materials to articulate different elements and functions in the design.

It is always impressive to visit a project such as this - which is a public project with an obviously very tight budget. Much care has been invested to create something unique and memorable - instead of another mundane public building. Governments in Asia could learn a lot from what the Europeans are doing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Madrid 2014 - Dinner at Rio Frio

Rio Frio is a traditional Spanish restaurant near the Museum district in Madrid. From the outside the restaurant looks a bit nondescript, but inside it is actually quite warm and cozy. There is a large bar inside with generous counter seating, but we were more interested in the al fresco area especially in the beautiful Spring weather. 

Tonight we were having Paella - the famous Spanish rice dish. Dinner started with a simple salad with greens and tuna.

The Paella was served in a large pan. It looked like it could feed a hungry hoard and was really impressive. In reality the pan is quite shallow and each one only got a small serving of the rice. It was really good though - the rice still quite firm and had some bite, and it had soaked up all the flavours of the stock and seafood.

Dessert was a simple ice cream with  pomegranate sauce.

The Paella was delicious and whetted our appetite for our next stop Valencia - supposedly the birth place of this famed dish.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Madrid 2014 - Cuatro Torres

While visitors to Madrid would mostly concentrate on the old town, Madrid also has its modern side. One of the most prominent modern districts is the area called Cuatro Torres (4 Towers). Here you will see 4 skyscrapers designed by big name architects around the world. Henry Cobb, Cesar Pelli and Norman Foster each designed one of the buildings, with the fourth tower by a Spanish architect. The names of the towers are Torre Caja Madrid, Torre de Cristal, Torre Espacio and Torre Sacyr Vallehermoso. Can you guess which is which ? 

As a group the skyscrapers are no doubt impressive. Individually however they just look like the countless number of office towers around the world - without much distinctive features.

The Cuatro Torres is near the Chamartin Train Station,  and you get some of the best views from the station.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Madrid 2014 - Reina Sofia Art Centre

The Reina Sofia Art Centre is one of the major museums in Madrid. Many of the artworks on display here were transferred from the Prado Museum. The Art Centre was opened in 1986, converting an old 18th century hospital building into an art gallery. It houses 20th Century Spanish art - and the most famous work here would be Picasso's Guernica.

In 1999 Jean Nouvel was brought in to build an extension which was completed in 2005. This is another masterpiece by the French master architect. Instead of creating an iconic architectural form that would overpower the existing museum - he chose to create a group of buildings that are quite understated - and covered under a huge metal canopy which shelters a large internal courtyard. Openings in the canopy are strategically placed to let in light during different seasons of the year.

The buildings may look a little bit like office blocks from some angles - but the detailing is exquisite - and the canopy is ever present to remind the visitor that this is no ordinary office building.

If you visit the Museum - make sure that you go to the roof top. It is not usually open to visitors - but talk to the reception nicely and they may accommodate. Here you are literally within touching distance to the canopy and can really appreciate its enormous scale. The shiny lacquered alumnium sheets reflect the surrounding skyline - and fuses the building with its surrounding. It is quite an ethereal effect.