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Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Headquarters Building

Date: 1943
Address: C. Serrano 117. Madrid View on Maps
Condition: Complete
Other: tel. 91 5855000

Miguel Fisac was still a student when he started his professional career working with the architect Ricardo Fernández-Vallespín on several works such as the building for the Instituto Torres Quevedo, located at the top of Calle Serrano, close to the Colina de los Chopos. In those years the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (C.S.I.C.), an organism created in 1939 as an entity dependent on the Ministry of National Education and promoted by the scientist and member of a religious order José María Albareda, was also being set up there. J.M. Albareda was the first Director of the Instituto Nacional de Industria and General Secretary of the C.S.I.C. all his life; he had also been Fisac’s fellow resident in the headquarters in Calle Ferraz in those first germinal years of the catholic organization Opus Dei, when they could foresee a cultural and political alternative to the monolithic power of Francisco Franco. The campus of the C.S.I.C was directly assigned to Fisac in 1942 by the Minister of National Education, José Ibáñez Martín, probably as a request from Albareda himself. He was commissioned to complete the great research complex that had been started in 1907 by the Junta de Ampliación de Estudios e Investigaciones Científicas – presided by Santiago Ramón y Cajal – on the southern plain of the place named Colina de los Chopos by Juan Ramón Jimenez. These lands had belonged to the Count of Maudes until 1916. Two buildings had already been built there before the civil war. The Instituto de Física y Química, known as the Rockefeller Foundation, was designed by the architects Manuel Sánchez Arcas and Luis Lacasa, and built between 1927 and 1930. The Auditorium of the Residencia de Estudiantes, by the architects Carlos Arniches and Martín Domínguez, was built between 1931 and 1933. The north-south direction of Calle Serrano had already imposed the orientation of these buildings, which Fisac kept as the northern limit of a future longitudinal rectangular plaza with an east-west dominant monumental axis. The access would pass through the propylaea of the future Institute of Edaphology, directly opening onto Calle Serrano, and the back would be dominated by the central headquarters of the Consejo. The central line of the axis is occupied by a longitudinal pond with mosaics representing the submarine world and its position reminds us of the admiration felt by the author for the Alhambra and its pools, which reserved the central space to the divine, symbolically important as mortals can not pass due to the expanse of water. This universal interest of Miguel Fisac makes his work firm and decisive but complex in intentions because the architecture of the Consejo building, originally commissioned to Ricardo Fernández Vallespín but designed by Fisac, has nothing Hispano-Arab about it. It comes straight from the classical world and his beloved cinquecento, -more appropriate for a representative building, but filtered through the experience of the EUR, which was being built in Rome in those years and which he had read about in publications. As Fisac commented sometimes, he saw a way to modernize classicism by stylizing it in the work of the Italian architects of that time, of whom he cited Moretti, Albini, Libera, Ponti and above all Terragni. Even though he did not mention Marcelo Piacentini or Guiseppe Pagano, they must have influenced him with their stripped, monumentalist and metaphysical works, previous to the EUR – as the critic Kenneth Frampton recognised in his article in the issue of the magazine AV dedicated to Fisac. Without the need of going abroad, the Ciudad Universitaria of Madrid, built during the 30s with buildings such as the faculty of Medicine by Miguel de los Santos, the student residences by Luis Lacasa or the school of architecture itself by Pascual Bravo, -which Fisac had attended before the Civil War, must have called the attention of the young architect for their realist sense which combined modern language and functionality with axial layouts and very refined classicist facades. In this building we can recognise the intention to recreate the building that existed previously on the site, designed by Sánchez Arcas y Lacasa for the Rockefeller Foundation, with its portico of slender columns inspired by the architecture of American universities. The Consejo building has a symmetrical frontal composition in which an eight-column portico stands out at the top of a large flight of steps. It is formed by pairs of Corinthian columns without bases which support an attic with a frontispiece beautifully carved with characters highlighted in Futura font instead of the incisive classical Roman types being used at the time by architects in Rome and Milan. The inscription says: FRANCISCUS FRANCO, / VICTOR INSTAURANDUM CURAVIT. / FRANCO INSTIGANTE A FUNDAMENTIS DICASTERIUM / FELICITER ERECTUM. On the facade of this early work Fisac displayed the serenity and equilibrium which allows us to glimpse the qualities of a great architect. The hall and the auditorium interiors reflect the same monumental austerity although the floor plan is articulated more freely and without any other symmetry than the central pieces of the hall and the auditorium because the plot has a difficult triangular shape which he used skilfully and pragmatically. The construction, in granite stone with hollow brickmoulds and ornamental parts in white stone from Colmenar, and with polished marble in the interior, has admirable quality and precision although the exterior rear facades, which look towards the buildings of the Residencia de Estudiantes, are covered by a simple plain rendering, probably for economic reasons. At the time this building received similar acclaim to the recently finished Chapel of the Holy Spirit but nevertheless Fisac did not feel satisfied because he thought that the world of classicism was a closed chapter in history and unsuitable for the conception of the social and technological landscape of the 20th Century. The Italians who had inspired Fisac were probably thinking the same, as we can see immediately after during the Fifties. However, it was not in Italy but in the Nordic world where Fisac found the information that confirmed his path towards a new architecture, which was not that of the European vanguards of the Twenties and Thirties but something more complex and contextualized and without the limiting a priori suppositions of early rationalism.


© Noemí Gª Millán, Mike Lumber

© Fundación Fisac


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