Tomorrow we will do beautiful things.
-Antonio Gaudí, architect from Catalonia, Spain
As my summer in Spain draws to a close, I realize how much I will miss Spanish architecture. The country's built environment represents so much variation, distinction, and history that it's hard not to fall hard for a building or two. Here are seven casual observations I've made on Spanish architecture, enjoy!
1. Grand & elegant buildings
Spain runneth over with stately 19th- and 20th-century buildings, featuring elaborate design flourishes and graceful balconies. These large buildings can span a block but give a street character and warmth.
2. Enclosed balconies (balcones encerrados)
Of all of Spain's delightful architectural elements, the enclosed balcony is by far the most popular, not to mention my personal favorite. Balconies are very common additions to residential buildings all over the country, and elaborate wrought iron and glass enclosed ones (byproducts of Spain's Industrial Age) boldly punctuate a building's corner or facade.
Elaborate wrought iron details are everywhere you look in Spain, so I find it surprising that I couldn't find any historical information online about this. Wikipedia does note, however, that the new use of glass and iron architecture took off after the Industrial Revolution, with iron and glass used as the main materials for building construction in train stations, winterhouses. industrial buildings and pavilions for exhibitions.
It's impossible to Google Madrid and not have an image of the beautiful Metropolitan building with its refined gold-tipped cupola pop up in the image results. Cupolas, or small domes adorning a roof or ceiling, are common additions to Spain's elegant Neoclassical buildings and give prominence to street corners.
5. Modern & contemporary architecture
Spain's building boom and bust is well-documented, so it's hard to miss grandiose urban projects (which I'll dive into later) and bland, contemporary architecture that dot the country and urban areas. I noticed a lot of sterile, monotonous architecture and public art mixed with beautiful old buildings, usually with less than impressive results. While ugly architecture plagues every country, Spain's contemporary architecture admittedly isn't as bad as that of soul-sucking Soviet buildings; regardless, I remain mostly indifferent to Spain's current architectural offerings.
6. Red, earthy tones
The Spanish landscape is unexpectedly rugged with rich, red clay colors mixing with deep blue skies and lush green vegetation; these elements make for quite the surreal landscape. Yet the picturesque countryside seeps into urban spaces, and red clay tiles and brick are common building materials for both old and new buildings.
7. The unusual
Considering the artistic contributions of Picasso, Gaudí, and Gehry it's no shock that Spain has more than its fair share of eclectic architecture. A great example of this is the Art Nouvea Longoria Palace in Madrid, headquarters of the Spanish Society of Authors and Publishers, a gorgeously bizarre building tucked into a ho hum typical neighborhood. (Please excuse my lack of pictures for this point, I've been having some technical difficulties lately.)