MVRDV in Madrid

First a museum in Japan, now apartments in Spain. A remarkable housing project by MVRDV in Madrid nears completion. A preview with photos by Rob ’t Hart.

Spain is currently in the midst of a building boom. An ideas competition was staged early this year on the assumption that some 400,000 dwellings will be needed in the Barcelona region over the next twenty years. Madrid, meanwhile, is spreading out further across the countryside. Madrid's housing market is under pressure. Housing is more expensive, and average earnings lower, than in Amsterdam. Many of Madrid's expansion districts are nothing but endless rows of yellowish-grey dwellings, indistinguishable from one another.

EMV del Ayuntamiento de Madrid (the municipal housing authority) is an influential player in the housing sector and builder of subsidised owner-occupied dwellings. People spend years on waiting lists in order to buy a house. In an effort to promote discussion on the quality of Spanish architecture, EMV approached a number of Spanish architects and asked them which foreign architect they should invite for a housing project. Those already commissioned to design housing include Wiel Arets and David Chipperfield. MVRDV was commissioned on the recommendation of Blanca Lleó.

Urban designers in Spain, unlike in the Netherlands, have no influence on the appearance of individual buildings within the areas they plan. MVRDV was thus able to design a building that contrasts sharply with the surrounding housing blocks in terms of height, shape, material and colour. Blanca Lleó acted as local project architect for the construction of the 21-floor, 156-unit apartment block in Sanchinarro.

The complex is made up of nine blocks, each of which contains a unique combination of house plans. These are expressed in the façade articulation, the materials, and the colours. Three blocks are faced in stone, three in concrete, and three in tiles. Orange accents on the façade indicate the circulation spaces. A 550-square-metre communal terrace on the twelfth floor features sunken seating areas, orange in colour, that offer shelter from the wind. The building is a striking landmark because it rises above the surrounding development and because of its sculptural form. No wonder that Jacob van Rijs of MVRDV was proud when he said that the building will feature in an advertisement for the city of Madrid.