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The Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas Bookshop

Date: 1950
Address: C. Medinaceli 4, Madrid View on Maps
Condition: Complete with small alterations

The bookshop is on the ground floor of what was the old Palacio del Hielo y del Automóvil, a building constructed between 1920-22 according to the design of the Belgian architect Edmond de Lune. The work was directed by Fernando García Mercadal and Gabriel Abreu and it was a typical example of eclectic monumentalism but with important novelties such as the concrete structure. Until 1928, when it was purchased by the state for a Centre of Historical Studies and National Board of Tourism and Iberoamerican Unión, it was used as ice-skating facilities, or for leisure activities in general and car exhibitions. The refurbishment for its new use was carried out by Pedro Muguruza, who opened the patios in the interior to illuminate the new premises and built a new framework in what it was the mezzanine of the ice-skating ring. In 1940 it was transferred to the CSIC and a forth floor was added by Ricardo Fernández Vallespín, with whom Miguel Fisac was working while still studying, he designed a new auditorium and the present portico with four stone columns. Ten years after what was probably his first work, he designed the bookshop which still exists and which was the only thing that survived a fire which destroyed the building in 1978.

For its anonymous exterior image and for its integrating spirit, it is surprising the force with which Fisac designed the facades, duplicating the size of the recesses and suppressing grilles and orders, to finally build huge windows with one single pane of glass. The new facade has no intention of mixing with the old one, as the wooden frames do not touch what was there before, with a separation of 8 cm to the beams of the plinth’s pilaster plane that flank the recesses, leaving only a 4 cm overhang of the sill. In each recess Fisac integrated a new vision of the grille: the rolled-up blind, which is stored in the upper part of the recess and runs on rails embedded in the wooden frame.

The other important element of the facade is the entrance, a small glass box where we feel surprised by the dimensions of the steps, which seem to make us reduce our pace and climb to the library in reflective attitude, thus forgetting the pace of life out in the street. The entrance is symmetrical and has two identical windows flanking the stairs; both are closed by a glass panel without solution of continuity on the edge of the dihedral, while the ceiling is a surprising wooden plane that undulates when it reaches the upper landing, generating a vault which houses the lighting. The door of 1.98m x 1.12m- has an intense Nordic flavour, with door handles designed to be pushed towards the exterior and to pull towards the interior and the glass framed by pine wood with a form between softened and tensed that gives us the impression of comfort. As we go up we can already see the interior of the bookshop but when we open the door we are surprised by the lamp next to the entrance and by the ceiling of the shop: with just these two elements Fisac announced what his subsequent work would be. The zenith rhythmical illumination he used forms a ceiling of light which would appear in projects such as the church in Cuenca, or the Centre of Hydrographic Studies. The lamp starts on the ceiling following its undulation and it develops in height until it is parallel to the door. In order to do this Fisac generated warped surfaces that would be repeated in the tower for the Jorba Laboratories, solved through a similar mechanism, with the difference that in the laboratories the directrixes only turn 45 degrees and here they turn 90º. The ceiling is ordered in 95 cm bands parallel to the facade, changing direction in the deepest interior of the shop, which corresponds to one of the rest areas. The lamps, 90x30 cm are situated within the bands, perpendicular to them and to the herringbone, on a white ceiling that resolves acoustic absorption with regular perforations and which has two levels: the highest towards the facade, to catch more light, and the lowest in the second space between the walls, its height defining the edge of the concrete beam which divides the shop practically into two halves parallel to the facade and resting on two visible columns. Fisac covered them with 1 cm marble slabs placed on edge, anticipating the treatment of the ‘V’ supports at the entrances to the Instituto Cajal.

The shop is organized like a great room made of fir wood, –sanded with metallic brushes and treated superficially with plaster dust, parallel to the recesses in the facade. The desk for public attention is situated perpendicular to the facade but in its last part it turns 150 degrees, first to leave more space for the service door and secondly to define the room for the shop in a soft way, like a concave hand enfolding you. The interior space of the shop is defined by walls full of wooden shelves, only interrupted by the stairs that lead to the upper floor, –no longer existing, and by the shop windows and the entrance. The great hall has a floor with oak slats arranged in a spike pattern, only broken by a 1.30x2.40 ‘carpet’ of the same wood right in front of the door. The furniture is composed of 7 tables measuring 0.90x1.80, and the two which are closest to the window are turned 30 degrees in relation to perpendicular to the facade. This could be interpreted as a rupture with the general order as well as an invitation to the visitor to direct his eyes towards the big windows while with the other two tables he recovers the orthogonal geometry of the shop. At present all of them have an orthogonal position.

Coinciding with the lower part of the ceiling are the rest areas in which we are invited to view the books more carefully. In one of them, with a low rectangular table and five armchairs –all designed by Fisac, one can isolate oneself with sheets of cloth that hang from a rail in the ceiling which are hidden in the gap between two shelves when they are folded away. The place also has a liquor cabinet integrated into the shelf which embodies the hedonism with which Fisac endowed this place. Apart from the entrance, the two big windows function as real inter-changers, in which the great glass area visually communicates the interior with the exterior, orienting the visitor and generating places to look at. The condition of these recesses as shop window for books is fulfilled by the display fittings designed by Fisac and built in the same wood as the rest of the shop according to a strange geometry, which is related to the way it looks from the exterior: the higher the shelf, the more vertical is the position that the books rest. The vertical element generating spaces are the shelves, with a variable modulation which adapts to the geometry of the premises and offers different solutions to the corners taking into account whether they are concave or convex.

Visiting this place can be an intense experience but simple and relaxed at the same time. If one wants to look, you’ll find a lot, if not; you will enjoy its peacefulness.


© Noemí Gª Millán, Mike Lumber
© Fundación Fisac

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