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This building by Miguel Fisac is one of the most recognized and best known at international level due in part to the spectacular interior of its church, but also for the fact that it is located on the edge of the busy access to Madrid, on the motorway to France, where the slender tower stood out in the middle of an arid landscape that has filled up with buildings through the years. The Dominican Fathers, who had already commissioned Fisac for the school in Valladolid, asked him to design a convent with a church for this isolated place on a slope, between road and the Valdebebas stream, where the teaching fathers would live alongside young theologians and theology students, but each having an independent life except for the gatherings in the classrooms, the refectory and the church. As in the Instituto in Daimiel and the Centro de Profesorado, the method used is the free articulation of pieces with a differentiated use, which again here are linked by arcades that form cloisters, sometimes open, and taking advantage of the topography of the area he combined buildings of two, three and four storeys. The whole compound has an orthogonal plan and it is arranged towards the rear. The professors’ pavilion is in the forefront, behind it is the one for the young fathers and, at the back the one for the students or members of the choir, because they are part of the choir. The main activities of the convent were developed between the first two blocks, around two cloisters which surround a garden with Japanese landscaping. On the south side are the classrooms and the auditorium with its ceiling with adjustable zenithal light, and on the north side are the infirmary and an adjacent, but separate, pavilion for nuns. In the foreground, dominating the compound, the church stands out, for which Fisac designed a completely original configuration that was not repeated again because it solved a very specific problem which was to place the members of the choir and the rest of the congregation in front of the altar, but grouped separately. Examining the possibilities of spatial convergence towards the altar, he found the solution in a ‘diabolo’ plan formed by two hyperbolic branches, in their lines they hide the asymptotes of an orthogonal cross orientated according to the axis of the convent compound. The axis of the church is turned 45 degrees in relation to the cross. The altar is located at its centre, so that the powerfully symbolic tension is directed towards this point, configured as an ‘axis mundi’. On one side of the altar are the 300 friars of the choir and on the other side are the congregation of 700 so that they face each other but at the same time are distanced by the preeminent position of the altar, elevated on seven steps and by the curved walls that compress the space in the centre but also send it off towards the powerful zenithal light. This effect is also emphasized by the Christ, done by the sculptor Pablo Serrano, which levitates hanging from a series of thin vertical steel cables. The fundamentals of the dynamic space that Fisac would develop more radically later on are already evident in this church, with its convex walls made of rough brick with a strong texture, because of the deep embedding and its wooden ceiling curving gently towards the centre, as well as the way of using light and colour to seek the same kinetic objective and they achieve a prominent role with a resolute ‘crescendo’ towards the centre. The back wall of the nave, where the public access is, is perforated by a reticule of glass bricks in different shades of blue which, in addition to the long windows that finish the hyperbolic walls, were designed by the artist José María de Labra, and they change from cold blue tones into warm golden colours as they approach the altar. The whole back of the choir, however, is a great stained glass window in red tones which allude to the martyrdom of Saint Peter and was made by the Austrian glassmaker Adolf Winterlich. There was a disagreement between the architect and the artist because of the alterations made by the latter of his own accord using tones of blue to give more chromatic richness to his work as opposed to the rotund idea that Fisac had about using red tones. The chapel of the tabernacle, lower and with a square plan, is a place for seclusion decorated with intense amber tones that produce a monochromatic effect and a feeling of mystery. Attached to the church, in the corner closest to the road, there is a tower formed by 16 concrete pillars linked through a helicoidal laminar ramp of the same material. It is perhaps the most singular tower made by Fisac and it is finished with a surprising virtual prism conceived as a ‘cloud’ of bent steel bars in the interior of which there is a neon cross shining at night. This highly sculptural top was designed by Fisac himself, and was made with four different types of steel elbows and with the help of a welder who followed his direct instructions, welding the pieces in continuity. This works anticipates later experiments by other artists into the dissolution of shape and volume. This tower and the curved wall of the church, with the frieze carved in stone by the sculptor Susana Polack and its stained glass windows, are the outstanding elements of the exterior of the buildings because the rest is based on an architecture of concrete and the walls covered with the hollow brick with a lip patented by Fisac for the Instituto Cajal. It is very plain and created with a strictly functional purpose, which according to the author was designed with almost no formal concessions because he focused all his concerns on the interior spaces, where he believed the essence of the architectonic fact to be at that time. This supposed oversight, lamented by Fisac years later, is refuted by the constructive precision of all the pieces, the clarity with which the structural pieces and the load bearing façades are manifested, in contrast to the covering facades or the carefully drawn diverse porticoes and galleries that form the system of open places and those protected against the rain. Certain singular elements highlight particular places such as the portico of curved shells at the entrance of the church, the previously mentioned tower, the water deposit’s slender hyperboloid or the admirable twisting, protruding stairs that link the professors’ dormitories with the classrooms downstairs. They were designed, like the tower, in collaboration with Javier Lahuerta, -an old student colleague, who calculated the universally photographed structure of a staircase that ascends jutting out from the floor, turning a quarter of a circle with its steps also extending from the leg located at their side. In this work of the Teologado, the architect showed the two intentions that animate his work in their extremes, between the search for a highly expressive tension concentrated in the representative places and the functional and constructive rigour, without formal concessions, of the spaces for use. Fisac, who had not only travelled around the world but also the lands of his own country constantly taking notes, made a personal assimilation of the Spanish baroque, which he highlighted with his sculptural display at the points of great symbolic content to leave the rest of the architecture in serene silence.
© Noemí Gª Millán,
© Fundación Fisac
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