Nuevos Archivos

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Project in cooperation with Laurens de Lange.
Problem analysis

The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and the Franco regime (1939-75) have resulted in more than 500.000 deaths and 300.000 exiles. Yet, Spain still does not properly deal with its legacy of the past. In contrast to other European countries with their own dark history, Spain has no museum or information point attempting to tell the history of the Civil War and Franco era.

There is a longstanding tradition of locking down discussions about the past, encouraged by the Pact of Forgetting introduced after Franco’s death. Spain’s Historical memory Law of 2007 can be seen as a first step towards recognition, but after the Popular Party returned to power in 2011 the law’ s impact diminished. Still, more and more people are starting to contest this wilful amnesia, and the recent election results of December 2015 might pave the way for a change in attitude towards the past.

Approach

As exemplified in Spain, contradictory expressions of memory coexist in the same time and place. Moreover, people even tend to remember the same things differently at different times. Entangled with the process of remembering are material objects, visual arts, films and literature—the physical carriers of memory. This gives us an approach to deal with the conflicting memory of Spain. By creating an archive for the public, the past can be remembered and learned from. It is of high importance that the many untold stories are kept for future generations, before they disappear altogether.

Because archives are usually maintained by governmental institutions, they can be a powerful political instrument. Who decides what does and does not get into the archive, has the power to (re)write history. We therefore propose to take the archive out of the political realm and give it back to the public, who can fill it with personal memorabilia.

Programme

To give these personal items meaning towards the general public, they are juxtaposed with politically charged artefacts from the Civil War and Franco era, such as statues and military equipment. This creates a dialogue, something that is further strengthened by introducing Art Cabinets, spaces for exhibiting contemporary art reflecting on Spain’s history. Like in a Wunderkammer, by juxtaposing apparently unrelated cultural artefacts and phenomena, their interconnectedness is shown and curiosity about history is encouraged.

The programme is further completed by an auditorium for symposia, lectures and presentations, a library containing literature relating to the Civil War and Francoism, workshop spaces and a central information point. By doing so, we aim to create a platform for discussion and reflection on the past.

Location

Within Madrid, the AZCA area lies at an important crossroads between the old city, the economical heart, the airport and the university campus. A majority of the city’s cultural, political and economic institutions are located along the Castellana axis, making this perhaps the most important road in Madrid, with AZCA at its centre.

The introduction of a cultural function could attract a wider audience to the AZCA area, benefiting local businesses and improving the attractiveness of the site. This opens up possibilities for partially financing the building by the corporations in AZCA. A public archive also involves the people in the area, counteracting the current socio-economic segregation.

Instead of building on the Titania site, we propose to place our building on the corner plot, facing the Castellana street. What is currently a messy parking lot, should be the grand, welcoming entrance to AZCA. The building is therefore set back from the street, creating a clear, public square in front. Several scenarios for the use of the square are proposed, such as festivals, demonstrations and national commemorations. Our archive of memory can also be seen as a counterweight to the neighbouring Nuevos Ministerios building, for many a symbol of the Franco dictatorship.

Building organization

The volume appears thin when viewed from the south, slowly transforming into a massive slab as one drives up the Castellana. The building volume, measuring approximately 80 x 80 x 10 m, is covered in a massive concrete shell with minimal openings. Upon entering, a vast and fragile framework reveals itself. Artefacts and functions seem randomly inserted, enhancing the feeling of endlessness. The routing alternates between order and chaos. Vertical cores and horizontal corridors, running end-to-end, create a sense of place, while randomly excavated paths, stairs and voids result in disorientation. A series of connected escalators takes visitors upwards through the building, inviting them to step off now and then to explore the archive and art cabinets.

The archive offers space to about 36.000 boxes for memorabilia, every box measuring about 50 x 50 x 50 cm. Boxes can be requested at a central information desk in the entrance hall, are filled and then put in the framework at a chosen location. Information about the box’s content and position (xyz-coordinate), as well as an optional background story, are written down by the user and stored in the library.

Form and materialization

The framework is built on a 60 x 60 x 60 cm grid out of 6 x 6 cm steel tubes. The frame simultaneously works as a space frame, carrying the loads to the walls on either side. The outer shell of the building is constructed of in-situ concrete, with a polished finish on the outside and a rough finish on the inside. Together with the concrete cores at both ends of the building, the concrete walls ensure stability of the whole. The concrete shell is not insulated and the grid of small openings contains no windows, letting in the air and sounds from the outside world.

The art cabinets and supporting functions are placed in insulated, steel-clad boxes. These boxes all have irregular window openings in the façade, allowing more daylight to enter. The volumes feature a lightweight metal construction so they can be supported by the framework. The inner climate is controlled by local BaOpt systems, managing ventilation, heating and cooling. The interior of the art cabinets can be completely redesigned and redecorated by the artists, and are therefore clad in white wooden boards for easy adaptation. Corridors, paths, voids and stairs feature a steel grating floor to ensure vertical transparency. The entrance ramp into the building is clad in the same steel as the boxes, creating a connection between inside and outside.