The structural period (1959-1968)
This period started with a work that was never built but was an important milestone in his career path, the project that he did for the parish church of San Esteban in Cuenca in 1959. Encouraged by a conversation with Fernando Casinello on structural research in architecture, Fisac began to think of using concrete as a modern material which could be adapted to any shape in order to provide the overall form of a building. In his project for this competition, -he was frustrated by what he considered to be an unjust second place, he applied to the roof some of his work on undulating concrete vaults, but with a different functional purpose, which allowed him at the same time to resolve the roof structure, the natural illumination, and the channelling of rain water. In this project he achieved this by way of some complex parabolic gull wings, but he immediately started to think along the lines of modular linear pieces of concrete with a continuous section. In another work done the same year, the Made pharmaceutical laboratories, he constructed a large concrete marquee using this system, while also employing concrete for the whole building, leaving its rough exterior unfinished in a display of constructive sincerity.
From 1960 comes the small pavilion of the Alter laboratories, where he designed another concrete marquee, this time like a folded sheet, a new departure towards his famous bone system which he developed fully in the same year, in his project for the Centro de Estudios Hidrograficos, in which he modelled and optimized the section of the pieces so that he achieved a hollow, winged triangular shape with which he could cover an area 80 meters x 22 meters, dividing the beams in voussoirs knitted together by a posttension system. This structural feat, which he studied with Vicente Peiro, Jose Maria Priego and Ricardo Barredo, all engineers, created one of the most original spaces in Spanish twentieth century architecture, its light is all zenithal and uniform, and its structural forces are transmuted into apparent lightness. The success of this structural discovery gave rise to multiple variations of pieces, adapted to each specific case, and which began appearing successively in other laboratories, hotels, teaching institutions, churches, and private homes.
The concrete buildings of the time were concentrated in Madrid, on the campus of the CSIC, as with the Centre for Geological Research, or the nearby laboratories of the Institute of Chemistry, from 1963, or the Vega building, from 1964, which stood out for its originality-anticipating the next stage of Fisac’s work, -‘flexible skins’. The ‘Juan de la Cierva’ Centro del Patronato confidently displays a curved fold on the upper edge of its smooth concrete skin, evidence of the soft original nature of a material which is poured into a mould. As the singular indulgence of his whole career, Fisac did a decidedly formal work expressly commissioned by the owner of the Jorba Laboratories, the octagonal star shaped concrete tower which from 1968 to 1999 loomed up beside the motorway to Barajas airport, and was christened the ‘pagoda’ by the residents of Madrid. With its concrete hyperbolic paraboloids, ably constructed with virtuosity, it was the counterpoint to a complex of plain functional buildings in line with other simultaneous concrete works by the same author.
Many of the most celebrated pieces of furniture and objects that Fisac designed also came from the Sixties, such as his ‘pata de gallina’ (hen’s foot) systems of tables and chairs, so did some of his best houses, the Casa Fanjul in Mallorca (1961), and the house in Guadalmina (1962), and his own house at Costa de los Pinos in Mallorca, along with various others which display the Mediterranean facet of a creator who sought the value of contextualizing his works as opposed to the indifference of the International Style. In 1963 concrete reappeared in a very different context, in the Madrid urbanization of Somosaguas, the Casa Barrera is in good part covered with a system of ‘bones’ similar to that employed at the Centro de Estudios Hidrograficos, as is also the case with the house for Alonso Tejada, done four years later.
In 1965 he designed two more concrete buildings that were important for the time, the College of the Asuncion de Cuestas Blancas, -in front of his house in Cerro del Aire, and especially the parish church of Santa Ana, in the Madrid district of Moratalaz, in which he changed the type of church to fall in line with the new principles of the Second Vatican Council, as he also did in the former of these two works. The commission for the church of Santa Ana was due to an initiative by the Archbishop Casimiro Morcillo, who wished to honour the memory of the recently deceased daughter of the architect, allowing him freedom to create one of his main works, and in which the systems of bones, this time with a symmetrical section, are combined with a strong expressive sense of the concrete, which is moulded to create forms of apses which play with the light and the brutal texture of the material. Somewhat later, from 1967, was the IBM building in the Paseo de la Castellana, notable for its façade of hollow open ‘V’-shaped pieces, which direct the interior views laterally, qualify the entry of direct sunlight, and create surfaces where the spaces can be confused with solidity in a continuous, vibrant skin.
The outstanding buildings from this period are two very different works with the common characteristic that they resumed the bare essentialism characteristic of the rural world for which Miguel Fisac had such affection since his work on the Instituto Laboral in Daimiel. These were, firstly, the Garvey bodegas in Jerez, in which a large edged model of ‘bones’, creates a rhythm in the roof that needs no more than the light of Cadiz and the whiteness of the white-washed walls to create an architecture which draws a strong expressive sentiment from a very basic approach. The second is the house that Fisac did at Mazarron on a rocky slope facing the Mediterranean. The simplicity with which he divided the house into four cubes climbing up the slope in a way that always leaves a terrace with views was another of his innovations which was surprising for its basic ingenuity and the naturalness with which it was placed on the landscape.
© Vicente Patón-Alberto Tellería
© Fundación Fisac