The piece of the month of July 2006


Javier Azanza López
Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art

In 1963 the Juan March Foundation sponsored an International Competition of Preliminary Projects for the construction of a new National Opera House in Madrid; the building was to be located in the Shopping Centre of the Northern Sector of the capital, also known as AZCA, a rectangular block of 204,330 square metres on the extension of the Paseo de Castellana from Nuevos Ministerios to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. subject 330 square metres in the extension of the Paseo de la Castellana from Nuevos Ministerios to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, in which the urban plan of the architect Antonio Perpiñá proposed a new concept of shopping centre that also brought together social, cultural and recreational functions through the clear definition of spaces.

A total of 143 preliminary projects were submitted to the competition, one of the most important on the Spanish architectural scene at the time, covering a wide range of possibilities, from sober rationalism to the most forceful organicism staff without neglecting formalist, naturalist, expressionist, brutalist and structuralist solutions, with influences by Van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Aalto, Wright, Mendelsohn, Poelzig, Rudolph, Johnson and Utzon, among others, all of which could be traced. The International Jury in charge of judging the competition awarded the first prize award to the preliminary project of the Polish team led by the architect Jan Boguslawski, although his Withdrawal to carry out the work due to disagreements with the organising committee meant that it went to Fernando Moreno Barberá, author together with the Austrian Clemens Holzmeister of project which had won the second prize award. In the end, difficulties of various kinds led to the cancellation of the project, the site of which was turned into a green area gradually occupied by official buildings belonging to financial or banking institutions, giving the complex a heterogeneous and incoherent image due to the different styles of the architects.

Among those who took part in the competition were architects from Navarre such as Rafael Moneo, whose project staff proposed a successful interplay of volumes in a varied layout even within an order that broke with monotony; or Carlos Sobrini, a member of a team whose proposal organicist merited the Jury's second honorary accredited specialization award. And also the Pamplona-born Miguel Gortari (1920-1977), one of the most prolific architects in the panorama of Navarrese architecture of the third quarter of the twentieth century, whose commitment to modernism, functionalism and urban planning and the importance given to the values of collective organisation become the fundamental premises of his professional work. After receiving the competition's instructions and compiling various information on the accesses and the site to be occupied - a rectangular surface area of 25,000 square metres - the typology of the building's typology was chosen. goal 000 square metres, the architectural typology of the sector, and the requirements that the building had to meet, Gortari sent his preliminary project at the end of March 1964; in it he took into account the guidelines provided by the architect of the high school Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid José Fonseca in his book El project de un teatro de ópera y sus problemas, summary clear and systematic of the experience accumulated by a group of architects after two study trips around Europe with the aim of cooperating in the success of the initiative proposed by the Fundación Juan March.

project for the Teatro Nacional de la Ópera de Madrid (1964), by Miguel Gortari Beiner

project for the Teatro Nacional de la Ópera de Madrid (1964), by Miguel Gortari Beiner

In his preliminary project, the Pamplona-born architect followed the guidelines of instructions and the programme that advocated the construction of a building with a representative character whose dignity and nobility would guarantee its aesthetic permanence. With this premise, Gortari conceived a closed building of geometric lines with a clear predominance of the horizontal and a unitary sense of volume that is sample compatible with a certain staggered layout, however, by translating the different interior spaces to the exterior; noteworthy in this sense is the presence of a body defined by a set of pilasters that surround the conference room of spectators describing their shape and size as the main motif of the building, as well as a higher prismatic volume that shows the obligatory element and A of the stage to the exterior. The main façade, with an open lower body and an upper body in the form of a running gallery, was oriented towards the Avenida del Generalísimo, from which there was access to a main entrance hall and a central staircase leading to the Foyer floor; side staircases and lifts led to the box and amphitheatre floors. Particular attention was paid to the stage, for which he fully accepted the proposal of the instructions with a cross plan, main stage to house four podiums of 3.50 x 16 metres, and an embouchure of 16 metres wide, extendable up to 30 metres, with a height of 9 metres. As for the conference room, it had a stalls with a capacity for 1,476 spectators, an amphitheatre for 937 people, and 36 boxes for 216 people, which gave a total of 2,629 seats - the instructions required the theatre to have a minimum capacity of 2,400 seats -, to which five boxes of honour had to be added. They were covered with metal scissors supported by the aforementioned pilasters. Other points addressed by Gortari had to do with the acoustic and visibility conditions of the conference room, the operating area and the auxiliary Departments , and the construction system and cladding materials with the employment of reinforced concrete, granite and Colmenar stone.

The architect from Pamplona concluded his report with comments outside the programme and the competition in which he made some interesting observations. Thus, although he appreciated the dignity of the location and the perfect dimensions of the site, he regretted the need to fit the entire opera complex into a rectangular space, which in his opinion added to the difficulties and reduced the possibilities for action. He also pointed out that he had introduced a museum outside the programme required by instructions , whose main entrance was on the north façade and which had rooms for holding cultural, academic or musical events. Finally, he expressed his preference for the competition to have proposed not an Opera House, but the "City of Opera and Music", a great cultural complex in which the separate composition of buildings with their own volumes and forms, and the possibility of connection and circulation between them, would eliminate problems, show the true architectural composition and leave the door open to future artistic modalities and extensions of the programme.

In short, the preliminary project for the Teatro Nacional de la Ópera de Madrid by Miguel Gortari brings us closer to the great official preliminary project competitions held in the sixties, a time of intense discussion about the path to be followed by architecture in which the architect from Pamplona also took part.