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ALISON BROOKS: EL BUEN RETIRO: THE RETREAT, THE RETIREMENT, THE SECLUSION

Workshop Leader: Alison Brooks
Assistant teacher: Alejandro de Miguel Solano

MCH Workshop Length: 5 days

 

WORKSHOP SYLLABUS 

 

EL BUEN RETIRO

 

El Buen Retiro Park is one of the largest in the city of Madrid. Surrounded by the present day city, the park stands as a reflection of the country’s history. Once a Royal Retreat site, it was opened to the public in the late 19th century. Currently a place of leisure and relaxation, it attracts citizens and tourists alike.

 

The proposed site for the project sits in a privileged high point, adjacent to the outer boundary of the park on its south side, overlooking both the park and the city. The project is a opportunity to dwell on the leitmotiv of the park and its meaning as the name of El Buen Retiro in Spanish can simultaneously refer to the Retreat, the Retirement and Seclusion. 

 

The Retreat to an Earthly Paradise

 

From its creation, El Retiro has been a park where royals could take a rest from the fatigues of the Court. The King enjoyed hunting parties, took long coach strolls and rode horses within his lands. The King and his family wandered around the big lake and its canals, moving in gondolas. They fished from the boats and organized regattas and naval battles as well as theatrical performances.

 

Sensitive noblemen picked fruits and flowers from the orchards and gardens. Exotic birds, lions, a tiger, a bear, wild boars, wolves and hares were brought to the park for the enjoyment of the aristocracy. Synthetic, exclusive and crown managed, it was still considered a true ‘earthly paradise’.

 

The park is now a free, communal territory where known and unknown activities take place. It is a communal public space accessible to all age and demographics. The park provides various leisure and arts-based entertainments including galleries, performances, monuments, restaurants, sports grounds, a library, orchards and gardens; a kind of ‘ideal city’. It’s edges are primarily defined by the architecture of the 19th century city.

 

Largely disconnected from the life of the park, the surrounding architecture acts as backdrop, screen, symbol, investment, (passive/retirement). Can this ‘boundary architecture’ assume a new role (agent) that contributes to the life of the park, the city and its urban communities? (active/advancement)

 

The Retirement to an Active Urban Life

 

The latest medical advancements prolong life expectancy; the lack of major wars in Europe and the inclusion of women in the workforce have contributed to a decline in fertility rates. These and other factors have resulted in a general ‘ageing of the population’ of the wealthiest countries in Europe.

 

Although following this European trend, the Spanish ageing phenomenon is extreme. The share of the population aged 65+ currently stands at 17% in Spain, equal to over 7 million people. Projections by the Spanish National Statistics Office (INE) suggest that the 65+ citizens will make up more than a 30% of the country’s population by 2030. The forecast by the United Nations sets Spain as the world’s oldest country in the world by 2050. At the same time there is a growing awareness of the need for ‘healthy ageing’ where the traditional notion of ‘retirement’ is supplanted by the goal of active lifestyles, community participation and life-long learning.

 

This exercise will develop new models for urban dwelling for people over retirement age. It will consider the requirements of this pressing social class to challenge the inaccurate, wasteful and damaging perceptions associated with older age. Senior citizens need places to do, learn, live and love as much as younger populations. Freed from a work routine and the expectation of ‘a quiet retirement’ the world is theirs to re-discover and to actively contribute to. Older people are now more connected to wider society through better health, social media and the gradual removal of historically imposed social barriers. How can the form, use and organization of urban housing respond to this new condition?

 

The Seclusion in an Ideal Society

 

Life in solitude has been a constant in human history as a way to increase self-awareness and concentration through contemplation or prayer, avoiding the distractions and norms of urban and societal life. There is a large Judeo-Christian tradition of hermitism, but this practice is also present in Hinduism, Buddhism and Sufism. Many secular social experiments -from Fourier’s Phalanstery to the Beat Generation and the Hippy Movement explore the notion of a community of seclusion as a counter expression of the normative culture of the time.

 

In architectural history, monasteries are the typological expression of an ‘ideal’, secluded community life. Monasteries can vary greatly in size, comprising a small dwelling accommodating only a hermit, or in the case of communities anything from a single building to vast complexes and estates housing hundreds. In additional to their religious or spiritual intentions, monasteries have been instrumental in creating, preserving, and enhancing both religious and secular learning, while transmitting cultural goods, artifacts and intellectual skills down through the generations. Monastic institutions have also fulfilled medical, political, and military functions. It is no coincidence that many the first hospitals, universities and libraries that provide our public services all emerged from monastic communities.

 

Life within the walls of the monastery has traditionally aimed for self-sufficiency, sustaining agriculture whilst producing and selling a variety of goods. However, even contemporary monasteries, isolated as they are, do not neglect externalities such as the reality of the surrounding city. They often provide medical services, education or even IT and administrative services to their surrounding community.

 

This exercise will envision a new urban housing model at the edge of the Retiro Park. By combining dwellings for an ageing urban community with an institutional programme of your choice, its gathering spaces will allow a variety of events, formats, users and landscapes to enrich the lives of its inhabitants. The symbiotic relationship between dwelling and institutional space should enable on-site knowledge transfer and encourage lifestyles that demonstrate sustainable consumption of resources.

 

Life at the Edge of El Buen Retiro

 

The architecture of your proposal will by necessity be a hybrid. It will respond to the fundamental issue of urban housing at density, but also interpret the poetic potential of an urban community negotiating boundaries: between youth and old age, between work and leisure, between the city and an ‘earthly paradise’. The project will transform the accepted model for retirement housing to a model that diversifies and invigorates architecture for ‘later’ urban life.

 

 

 

 Beginnings

 

In 1505, at the time of Isabella I (1474–1504) a new monastery was built in Gothic style as an extension of San Jeronimo el Real Church, in the vicinity of the current location of El Prado Museum. The Monastery had a special connection with the crown, since the Royals had had some apartments annexed that were used as a place of spiritual retreat.

 

Other than that residence, there was no sign at that time of what would become the foremost baroque palatial ensemble in Madrid in the seventeenth century.

 

A palace for a King. The Court of Philip the IV and El Buen Retiro.

 

The full development of the site was possible only by the disposition of the Count Duke de Olivares, Philip IV’s (1605-1665) powerful favourite, to create a new resting and leisure royal site for the young monarch.

 

The old Madrid fortress, permanent seat of the government and the kings, was a shady palace, close to the Casa de Campo, where the king liked to go out for hunting, but far from the area that the aristocracy was beginning to target as an ideal place for the construction of rural leisure villas.

 

Olivares was determined to build, in an attractive location for the king, a royal house superior to those villas in the hilly outskirts of Rome that the nobles had been erecting during the previous century.

 

In the 1630s, several buildings were completed in brick and wood, with granite fences on doors and windows, a faithful image of the taste of the Habsburg monarchy. The exterior sobriety contrasted with the interior luxury of tapestries, paintings and furniture.

 

Of the whole complex, two buildings are still standing today: the Casón del Buen Retiro, which served as a ballroom, and the Salón de Reinos, decorated with paintings by Velázquez and Zurbarán and frescoes by Luca Giordano.

 

The complex was quickly built and the gardens were the final addition. They were going to facilitate the king´s getaways throughout the year, enjoying wide spaces and diverse uses and pastimes - from hunting, sailing and fishing to walks on foot, by coach or on horseback through his domains.

 

The Count Duke of Olivares commissioned the park to Cosimo Lotti, a garden designer who had participated in the design of the Boboli Gardens for Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

 

Water was a distinguishing trait of the garden from the beginning, the Estanque del Retiro, a large pond, served as the setting for recreational naval battles and other aquatic displays. Several canals constituted -along with the chapels- the basic structuring elements of the gardens.

 

The Count-Duke had an orchard not far from where the palace was built, to escape the daily bustle of politics, as other aristocrats did. By those years the Duke of Uceda, the Count of Monterrey, the Marquis of Carpio and the Duke of Lerma already had recreational farms nearby on the Paseo del Prado.

 

 

 

El Buen Retiro. Un jardin à la mode

 

After the death of Philip IV, a new dinasty sat on the throne. Philip V (1683-1746) settled in el Buen Retiro, following the tradition of the Habsburg monarchs. He liked the palace and the gardens and wanted to transform the somewhat chaotic feel of the park by imitating what his grandfather, Louis XIV, had already done in Versailles.

 

He commissioned the remodeling plans to Robert de Cotte, the first architect of Louis XIV, who sent his disciple, René Carlier, to Madrid. The remodeling works involved high costs and many technical difficulties.

 

When the king widowed and married again with Isabel de Farnesio there was a twist to the project. The new queen encouraged the monarch to build a recreation palace farther from the court and the location of El Retiro. The Parterre, a formal french garden, subsisted to the change in plans and is one of the few spaces to the French taste that, somewhat modified, has survived to the present day.

 

An Enlightened Project

 

The arrival of Charles III (1716-1788) from Naples blew new life into the park. He did not particularly like the buildings and when he moved to the main Royal Palace in the west of the city a few years later, he spent very little time around the premises in El Retiro.

 

However, his ambitious project to make the Paseo del Prado a representative element of the European enlightment was completed with the construction of the Natural History Cabinet (now the Prado Museum) and the Botanical Garden.

 

Charles III had a particular interest in promoting technique and craft. He installed a Porcelain Factory in the park, further to the creation of a School of Agriculture. His intention was to continue in Spain the manufacture of Capodimonte porcelain.

 

The last of his projects was the Astronomical Observatory, his idea was to crown the Paseo del Prado, dedicated to science, with this final piece.

 

 

Invasion and decay

 

During the war that led to the brief french rule of Spain, the french troops used El Retiro as a stronghold. The location of the park, in one of the highest points of the town, isolated from the city, would turn into a suitable military base during the siege of the city.

 

A regiment of two thousand men occupied the royal walls in a few days. Camped in the gardens, the soldiers made wood for their meals and caused various fires. On the other hand, General Murat supplied his table with fresh fish from the pond.

 

At the end of the war the appearance of the palace and the gardens was a set of charred walls, halfruined buildings, rubble, ruins ... What had been an emblem of a strong monarchy for two centuries had almost completely disappeared. Of the Palace, only two buildings could be saved, the Casón del Buen Retiro and the Salón de Reinos.

 

Early liberalization

 

Isabel II (1830-1904), sat on the throne of a fragile and precarious contry. She initiated in Madrid the first modern reforms of the city with a clearly privatizing character, that certified the weakness of the monarchy.

 

With the intention of fostering the urban expansion of the city in the central decades of the XIX, the queen yielded a part of El Retiro to the State. Subsequently, the municipality initiated the urbanization of a series of plots previously pertaining to the real enclosure. The opening of new streets and the construction of buildings

in an area surrounding the Retiro was completed.

 

The Jerónimos neighborhood was outlined, between the Prado Museum and Alfonso XII Street, as a privileged residential area of the nineteenth-century aristocracy and bourgeoisie.

 

A Public Park

 

The park eventually passed to public ownership in 1868, at the time of the departure of Queen Isabel. The socalled Paseo de Coches or Fernán Núñez soon became the fashionable walk of the city, snatching prominence to the old Paseo del Prado. The aristocracy and bourgeoisie preferred this new place, more spacious and with fewer traffic problems.

 

In those years, the park began to take on the character of a programmed leisure space, through the organization of public events and exhibitions for which the Palacio de Velázquez (1883) and the Palacio de Cristal (1887) were built. El Retiro gradually became the green heart of the city.

 

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Monument to Alfonso XII was erected next to the pond. Countless statues, fountains and commemorative monuments filled the park and made it into an open-air sculpture museum.

 

The nineteen-thirties and forties witnessed the creation of new gardens, such as the rose garden. The modern Retiro Park was completed, and has remained structurally almost unchanged to date.

 

 

SITE BRIEF

 

Site area: 

5,127 m2 (cadastral area)

 

GEA: 

12,000 m2

 

Units 

Residential:

100 residential units

10,000m2 GEA

 

The residential unit mix must be composed of units for older citizens, units for younger professionals and for families. All units can be individual or shared, and the size and specific share of each unit type must be defined by each group.

 

Residential ancilliary uses:

Communal spaces, canteen, leisure spaces (as part of the residential 10,000m2 GEA)

 

A set of ancilliary uses must be included to support the residential use, the specific content of this use provision must be defined by each group to be aligned with their proposal.

 

Public Institution:

2,000 GEA

 

A public institution, accessible to all citizens and providing a service to the city, must be included in the project. The specific functionality of this institution must be defined by each group.

 

Building types

 

There will be no specific conditions on the choice of building type, heights, or materials. These have to be sensitive to the conditions and location of the site, and the specific functionality of each space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROGRAM 

 

prior to [24.06.2019]

objectives:

become familiar with the site and develop a critical position on the brief

tasks:

students must have visited the site & documented it with photographs and other forms of cultural research to provide a basis for their approach each group must have drawn the perimeter and context of the plot and printed it in A3 format (@1:500)

the context site model must be completed in advance each group must have explored and agreed a cultural story/narrative about the brief & site that they want to build on:

these are the items to be intensified or retained through their project to create A GOOD RETREAT, RETIREMENT & SECLUSION

 

[24.06.2019] MONDAY

objectives:

understand the conditions of the site and each plot

morning:

critical session with tutors

presentation: Alison Brooks Architects

presentation: brief + groups + objectives of the day

critical session: 10min presentation / group

social/cultural ideal driving the project

afternoon:

independent group work

  

[25.06.2019] TUESDAY

objectives:

fix the building massing and strategic site plan of your plot, including a Public Institution Proposal.

morning:

independent group work

afternoon:

critical session with tutors

10’ presentation / group

-ground floor plan e 1:500

-site secion e 1:500

-preliminary massing

all of the pinned documents must include the work from previous days and any advances of next days

 deliverable:

-ground floor plan e 1:500

this layout must include the following:

-building outline, position of cores, accesses vehicular servicing from street

-site section e 1:500

-preliminary massing

 

 [26.06.2019] WEDNESDAY

objectives:

develop your ideal dwelling units and distribute them within the building

morning:

independent group work

afternoon:

critical session with tutors

10’ presentation / group

-typical floor plan & section e 1:250

-3D + facade development

all of the pinned documents must include the work from previous days and any advances of next days

deliverable:

-typical floor plan e 1:250

this layout must include the following:

-cores, circulations, accesses

-outline of units and unit mix

-internal distribution of units

-section e 1:250

-3D + facade development

 

 [27.06.2019] THURSDAY

objectives:

detail the unit plans and define materiality

morning:

independent group work

afternoon:

critical session with tutors

10’ presentation/group

-ground floor plan/typical floor plan/apartment layouts/3 key views

all of the pinned documents must include the work from previous days and any advances of next days

deliverable:

-ground floor plan e 1:250

this layout must include the following:

-building outline, position of cores, accesses vehicular servicing from street

-typical floor plan e 1:250

this layout must include the following:

-cores, circulations, accesses, shafts

-internal distribution of units

-apartment layouts e 1:100

each different unit layout must be drawn independently and include the following:

-windows, doors, furniture, fixtures

-physical model e 1:250

this model must suggest the materiality of the finished building

-3 key views aerial view, street/ground floor view, ‘Public Institution’ space.

 

[28.06.2019] FRIDAY

objectives:

complete and present your project

morning:

independent group work

afternoon:

final jury

10’ presentation/group

deliverable:

-3 A1 boards

this layout must include the following:

-ground floor plan e 1:250, typical floor plan e 1:250, site section 1:500, section 1:250, apartment layouts

e1:100, physical model e 1:500, 3 key views.

-project title, concept & written statement must be included in the boards

-200 words texts (each) description of the project on: urban scale, building scale and domestic scale

-physical model e 1:250

-indesign and pdf format as per the provided layout

all of the above must follow the formatting specified at the beginning of the week

 

 

Alison Brooks MCH'2019 Workshop was held in Madrid, from Monday the 24st of June to Friday the 28th of July, 2019.