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Chapel of the Holy Spirit – “Goerres” Library, Hispano-German Society

Date: 1942-1947
Address: C. Serrano 117, Madrid View on Maps
Condition: Complete
Other: tel. 91 5632024 / Rector Mr Javier Cremades

It was probably the scientist and Secretary General of the C.S.I.C. José María Albareda who proposed to Fisac the conversion of the Auditorium of the Students Residences into a church, given that this institution had been eliminated under the new regime, with all its buildings being converted into residences for researchers and lodgings for students at the nearby Instituto Ramiro de Maeztu. It was the first building which initiated the new scientific campus, and the fact that it was a church eloquently expresses the spirit of commitment between religion and science that animated the new project for the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. The original Auditorium was designed by the architects Carlos Arniches and Martín Domínguez and had been built between 1931 and 1933, in a rationalist style that was less radical than the adjacent buildings, the Instituto and Colegio Nacional Ramiro de Maeztu, as the plain brick design was animated by the presence of a cloister with round arches with a kind of Mediterranean and metaphysical feeling. On top of the walls of the Auditorium, and making use of three metres of their lower parts, Fisac erected the church of the Holy Spirit, transforming what was the main hall into a longitudinal nave finished with a cylindrical tower at its western end which contains the presbytery with the altar. Given the lack of iron suffered by Spain in those years, he resorted to covering the nave with three pendentive domes walled up with cladding bricks. Each one rests on two supporting arches and two arches parallel to the nave built in reinforced concrete with a strict sense of economy, since in this way he avoided having to use excessive buttresses. As the walls designed by Arniches y Domínguez were not strong enough to support the weight of the vault, he made new supports distanced from the perimeter box which left a service corridor on each side of the nave, while a barrel vault covers the space corresponding to the atrium and the choir. On both sides of the presbytery, -not as wide as the nave, the residual spaces are employed to house a chapel dedicated to the Virgin and a small sacristy respectively. The whole architectonic organization displays a spatial and constructive rationality characteristic of an experienced architect, which in Fisac is extraordinary because it was his first individual work and the first time he worked with the ecclesiastical theme. He acknowledged the influence of Mozarab architecture in his system of composition, as well as that of Brunelleschi, or Juan de Herrera in the cathedral of Valladolid, although a person so passionate about architecture and with such an inexhaustible curiosity had enough knowledge and references to be capable of being authentically original. Some people have commented on the similarities of this architecture with some works by Günnar Asplund, but this author, who was much admired by Fisac, was unknown to him until 1948 when he travelled to Sweden, so these similarities can only be those characteristic of a moment in which a cultural jump towards modernity based in classicism is being attempted, one without the frontal opposition characteristic of the German and Dutch schools. The same happened in a parallel way and almost in the same period with Luis Moya, an erudite architect who modernized classicism through research into the possibilities of building with bricks. The interior space resulting from Fisac’s approach already points to the intentions that he would develop in his future churches when he talked about architecture as “a piece of humanized air”, and about temples as “a piece of sacred air” which envelops the congregation in an atmosphere predisposed to transcendence. Light is the main way of achieving these intentions, focusing the attention on the altar, opposing the aura of the immaterial to a constructive materiality expressed in a direct and sincere way. In this first work, the light comes in through ten large windows directly opening on the dome, creating a special atmosphere over the altar which is outlined by the transversal arch that separates the nave from the presbytery. The paintings by Ramón Stolz which decorate the cylindrical tambour, with various figures in perspective set against an enormous light blue emptiness, and the high reliefs in white stone by Juan Adsuara, which fill up the three frontal walls between the red marble pilasters surrounding the altar, contribute to magnifying this point of mystery in a calculated way. Other reliefs in the altar, pulpit and confessionals are by the same sculptor. The paintings in the domes and the designs of the stained-glass windows, built by Mauméjean, are also the work of the painter Stolz. On the exterior of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Fisac showed great respect for the work of his predecessors and although he modified the situation and proportions of the empty spaces, he kept the built brickwork and the austerity of the lines of the work done by Arniches and Dominguez but adapted them to religious use through symbolic elements such as the small pediment over the main entrance, the oculus and the relief of small arches over the same door, or the stylized belfry that is on the lateral facade. However, there is one new inclusion that stands out clearly from the previous work: the cylindrical tambour in the presbytery. A potent and austere construction made in brick that has a slightly pillared wall in its upper part that contains the ten large windows which illuminate the interior of the dome. This sensibility with the pre-existent is even more obvious in the part corresponding to the auxiliary buildings of the old auditorium, where he practically kept the whole exterior outline, including the large horizontal windows and the cloister arcade, which would be occupied by and become the “Goerres” Hispano Alemana Library in 1947, one of the first and most important examples of the “organic” Fisac, in his design for the ceiling made with metallic trusses covered by undulating plaster that integrate the fluorescent tube lighting. It is a surprising solution at that moment and in that place which expresses resonances with the Nordic organicism of Alvar Aalto, and which would be the precedent for the care with which this author studied ceilings, and an advance of the beam-bone ceiling systems that he would invent twenty years later. For both the chapel and the library, Fisac developed his skills as a furniture and object designer which he had started at the Instituto Torres Quevedo, but which would give rise here to masterpieces such as the series of “structural” armchairs that anticipate a creative line which although they did not have much diffusion as a consequence of the anaemic national industry in the furniture sector, are as important as his architectonic production. His work on the Chapel of the Holy Spirit was received with great success at the time and praised by such prestigious critics as the professors José Camón Aznar and Enrique Lafuente Ferrari, this provided a fundamental impulse in Fisac’s career towards the construction of churches and large civilian buildings.

© Noemí Gª Millán, Mike Lumber

© Fundación Fisac



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