Spanish architects that everyone should know

Architecture in Spain during the 20th century experienced two clearly differentiated periods marked by the Civil War. This warlike episode that paralysed the country and delayed its development with respect to other European states.

From the beginning of the century, marked by eclecticism and modernism, we moved on to a pre-war rationalism, which meant the exile of many architects and the beginning of a plan to rebuild the country.

Technological innovations are making their way and, from the 1960s onwards, new figures and more daring works are establishing themselves among Spanish architects.

Finally, at the end of the century, the door opens to new styles and singularities.

Today we bring you a small list of some of the most renowned Spanish architects of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century that you should get to know in order to get an idea of the evolution of architecture in Spain. Here we go.

Architecture in Spain in the 20th century

Of course, modernism marks the first period of Spanish architecture in the 20th century. Architects such as Antoni Gaudí, inspired by both Art Nouveau from Europe and Mudejar art from the Iberian Peninsula, have a timeless and impressive style.

However, as a counterpoint to modernism, a typically bourgeois style, rationalism emerged, with Le Corbusier at the head of the movement, to focus on the needs of an increasingly crowded population in the big cities.

This new urban planning movement was introduced in Spain with the creation, in 1930 in Zaragoza, of the GATEPAC group (Group of Spanish Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture).

A few years later, in 1939, the National Housing Institute was created, which debated and presented papers such as the “National Restructuring” or the “Plan of Cities” aimed at how to rebuild the destruction that the war had caused.

One of the objectives was to generate a new urbanism in line with the rural exodus and the birth of a middle class oriented towards the consumption of goods.

During the main years of the dictatorship, avant-garde architecture was extinguished by virtue of classical-type architecture.

It was not until the arrival of democracy and EU funds that Spanish architects were able to emerge again, taking advantage of the opening that had progressively taken place since the 1960s.

The 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, the 1993 Universal Exhibition and the construction of such iconic works as the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Tenerife Auditorium mark a new golden age for architecture in Spain.

Some of the main characters of all these stages are:

Alberto Campo Baeza

Alberto Campo Baeza (Valladolid, 1946), studied architecture at the Escueta Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid. He has received numerous awards and has taught at more than 10 international universities.

In his style we find a great taste for open and bright spaces. In fact, he considers light to be the central element of architecture.

Throughout his work, which has led him to receive the National Architecture Award, we find more than 70 homes, as well as pavilions and office buildings.

Highlighted work. Gaspar House

The Casa Gaspar (1992), which has been included in the Inventory of Recognised Goods of the Andalusian Historical Heritage, is a work of 1992 located in Vejer de la Frontera, Cadiz.

This house is surprising because of its simplicity and the use of light, which enters horizontally and continuously inside the house; and because of the low price of its construction.

Starting from a square of 18×18 metres, and in white, the building is divided into three parts of equal dimensions, but different heights inspired by the typical Andalusian houses with a front and a back patio.

Inside there is space for nature, with four lemon trees lined up in the front yard, and a small pool with water in the back.

Gaspar house, Alberto Campo Baeza, spanish architects

Enric Miralles

Born in Barcelona in 1955, Enric Miralles was one of the most interesting Spanish architects of the late 20th century. He was trained between the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and Columbia University in New York.

In his style we find intrepid and complicated designs, for which he used materials such as concrete or steel.

Miralles did not seek to break up the aesthetics of the locations with his buildings, but to bring them together and adapt them to the surrounding nature.

Unfortunately, Miralles passed away in 2000, some of his works being completed by his partner Benedetta Tagliabue, who continued with her EMBT studio.

During his life he received such prestigious awards as the Golden Lion of the Bineal of Venice in 1996 and taught at different schools of architecture and design, holding a chair at Harvard University since 1992.

Among his most renowned works are the Scottish Parliament, the Natural Gas Building and the refurbishment of Utrecht City Hall.

Highlighted work. Gas Natural Building, Barcelona

The Gas Natural headquarters in Barcelona is one of the buildings that Miralles was unable to finish, being completed by Benedetta Tagliabue in 2006. It is one of the flagship buildings of the city.

It is presented as a group of glazed buildings assembled together, with a maximum height of 86 metres and a surface area of more than 80,000 m2.

The building, with its more than 3500 tons of iron and glass, stands out for its particular volumetry and risky shapes, as well as for its efficient insulation and, more recently, for the installation of numerous photovoltaic panels on its façade.

Enric Miralles Gas Natural building, spanish architects

Antonio Palacios

Antonio Palacios (O Porriño, 1874), was an architect and town planner who developed his career mainly between Madrid and Galicia. His period of greatest activity was the first third of the 20th century, with a style that varied from Austrian-type modernism to regionalism.

He trained as an engineer and architect in Madrid, where he would have his residence, and participated with the architect Joaquín Otamendi in different public competitions.

It is thanks to the construction of the Palace of Communications that its prestige increases, winning a large number of projects in Madrid, such as the Círculo de Bellas Artes.

He also worked as a teacher and columnist and was the architect of the Compañía del Ferrocarril Metropolitana.

Highlighted work. Communications Palace

The Palace of Communications, known since 2011 as the Palace of Cibeles, was the work that opened more doors to Antonio Palacios.

Built between 1907-1919 in collaboration with Joaquín Otamendi, it is ascribed to the neo-Gothic style.

This monumental building, with a surface area of more than 12,000 m2, was a landmark in the Palacios race. With its monumental dimensions, the work is presented with two towers on both sides, flanking a central tower.

It has five floors of white stone and numerous details on its façade, from Egyptian to Greek or Aztec gods.

As a curiosity, in its central coat of arms the architect included the coat of arms of Galicia, his native land.

Inside, a large glass vault forming a gallery that extends from the Pasaje de Alarcó and the Patio de Coches is the most striking element.

It is currently the building used by the Madrid City Council

Antonio Palacios, Cibeles Palace

Alejandro de la Sota

The architect Alejando de la Sota was born in Pontevedra in 1913, training at the School of Architecture in Madrid, where he would finish in 1941.

Attached to the modern movement, he was interested in the challenges of civil engineering and the use of new materials.

As an architect, he was part of the National Institute of Colonization during his first years, and it was in the 1950s that he began to gain prestige through his participation in architectural competitions.

A civil servant of the Directorate General of the Post Office, he taught and participated in talks on architecture, which led to his work being exhibited and recognised worldwide.

Highlighted work. Gimnasio Maravillas

Alejandro de la Sota was the architect assigned to expand the Colegio Maravillas in Chamartín, Madrid, in 1962. The project consisted of enlarging the courtyard, creating a gymnasium and adding new classrooms to the school.

The classrooms, the gymnasium and the rest of the additions bridge a 12-metre gap with respect to the street. The school’s basement is supported by a structure of concrete pillars, with the rest of the structure of the gymnasium being made of iron.

Despite being almost 60 years old, the gymnasium is still used by the school’s students and in 2019 it was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest.

It should be noted that de la Sota was awarded the Grand National Plastic Arts Permit in 1963 for his work on this building.

Alejandro de la Sota, gimnasio maravillas

Aníbal González Álvarez-Ossorio

Aníbal González Álvarez-Ossorio (1876), was an architect from Seville trained, like many other members of this list, at the Escuela Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid.

We don’t have to wait several years to see his work, as his career began while he was still in training. As a student he presented a pavilion at the Small Industries Exhibition in 1901.

During his career he became interested in historicist and neo-Mudejar styles, and is currently recognised as the greatest exponent of Andalusian regionalism of the early 20th century.

Protected by his cousin-brother Torcuato Luca de Tena, his work was prolific and went from initial modernism to historicism and Mudejar influence. Most of his work can be found in Seville and Andalusia.

Highlighted work. Plaza de España

Among its many projects, the Plaza de España in Seville stands out above the rest, whose construction began in 1914 and was completed in 1929.

This is an architectural complex initially created as the main building for the 1929 Ibero-American Exhibition.

The square has a semi-circular lake and two twin towers, and is notable for its combination of brick and tiles, which represent the 48 Spanish provinces.

Four bridges connect the lake with the square, which is considered to be the maximum exponent of Andalusian regionalism. A statue of the architect is currently installed in the square as a tribute.

España square, Aníbal González, spanish architects

Eduardo Torroja

Eduardo Torroja, an engineer from Madrid born in 1899, specialised in civil engineering and the use of concrete.

After completing his studies, he joined the Compañía de Construcciones Hidráulicas Civiles until 1927.

He received the National Architecture Prize for his collaboration with the architect Manuel Sánchez Arcas on the project for the Thermal Power Station at the University City of Madrid.

After the Civil War, in 1939, he dedicated himself to teaching at the Special School of Roads, Canals and Ports. That same year, the Technical Institute of Construction and Building decided to integrate his name into its denomination.

Highlighted work. Algeciras Market

The alliance formed by Eduardo Torroja and the architect Manuel Sánchez Arcas led to the rehabilitation of the Algeciras market, Torroja’s most outstanding work.

The interior of the market is divided into four radial streets that lead to a central square, just below the skylight that presides over the work.

100 stalls are connected between the radial streets and the concentric interior streets.

However, the most striking feature of the market is its concrete dome, which rises to almost 50 metres. In its keystone we find an octagonal skylight with crossed iron ribs covered by glass pieces.

This skylight is responsible for filling the market with light, which is supported by eight points and a bracing beam that connects them together.

Algeciras Market, Eduardo Torroja

At this point we conclude this first review of some of the most famous and well-known Spanish architects of the 20th century.

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