The Torre Blancas is an architectural icon of the Spanish Organicism movement. Designed by Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza and completed in 1969, this exposed concrete tower rises 71 meters above the Madrid skyline. It also stands as one the most complicated and innovative reinforced concrete structures of the era, absent of the typical rectilinear qualities associated with cast-in-place concrete. More details after the break.
Commissioned by John Huarte, the building was originally slated to be one of two constructed. Sáenz de Oiza and his team, which included Juan Daniel Fullando and Rafael Moneo set about to design a tower that would break the typical conventions of residential architecture. Completed in an era where numerous Brutalist towers were rising up across Europe, this tower approached the high-rise equation from a different angle. The basic volumes are conceived via cylindrical forms that are further transformed through the superimposition of smaller circular forms. While some of the interior spaces exhibit minimal linear qualities, they are broken up and transformed through the use circular and curvilinear secondary spaces. This language carries out to the balconies, which are semicircular in form and serve to soften the sharp angled intersections of the primary circular volumes. The balconies often jog from side to side as they rise, creating an interesting asymmetrical rhythm of massing and shadow play. The main structural typology of the vertical cylinders is exaggerated at the top, where the twelve forms expand to 10 meters in diameter and cantilever out past the main façade. These volumes house the communal portion of the tower, including a rooftop pool.
Departing from the typical column and beam construction method, Sáenz de Oiza chose to highlight the strength and beauty inherent within concrete in a manner that resembles the organic growth patterns of trees. Exterior load bearing walls are laterally stabilized through the exterior balconies, which are reminiscent of leaves hanging off branches. A circular concrete volume located within the middle of the tower that contains the main spiraling staircase functions as the ‘tree trunk’ for the floor slabs to connect from exterior to interior. The intrinsic organic nature of the structure is carried throughout all aspects of the tower, even the walls flow seamlessly from floor to ceiling.
The rawness of the exterior concrete is moderated by the use of wooden filigree screens on the balconies that vary in position relative to the face of the exterior façade. The cantilevered volumes on the top of the tower feature wooden scrims located immediately above elliptical windows. Further softening the exterior are vines and plants that have taken root at the base and begun to climb up the façade. The ground plane plaza continues the curvilinear typology with round paving stones and retaining walls that rise and dip around the building base. White marble is used extensively for the interior treatment of the floors and walls, which merge seamlessly with the sculptural elements that proliferate the public spaces.
The Torre Blancas remains an iconic landmark to the ingenuity of the modern movement of its era, and was awarded the European Excellence Award in 1974. Its undulating exterior aesthetics remain as equally impressive as the interior, even after more than 40 years of weathering. Sáenz de Oiza’s approach to creating and defining spaces resulted in a design that truly has its roots in the foundation of organic architecture.
Architect: Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza
Location: Madrid, Spain
Project Year: 1969
References: www.revisioninterior.blogspot, www.spainisculture.com, es.wikipedia.org, en.urbarama.com
Photographs: wikimedia commons user: Xauxa, Zaqarbl, Flickr user: nearnearfuture, 62518311@N00, 11870 user: ie School of Architecture