A response to an actual, highly questionable proposal for this site by architect Emilio Ambasz, the Museo de Arquitectura Madrid (MAM - Museum of Architecture Madrid) seeks to answer the question, “How do you effectively exhibit works of architecture?” The project also aimed to achieve a degree of technical design development above that of the usual academic project.
The currently abandoned existing building - while not of exceptional historical or cultural value - is built sturdily out of brick, typical of turn-of-the-century Madrid constructions. It is well-sited along the Paseo del Prado, one of Madrid’s main thoroughfares. It is quite near central Atocha train station, as well as Madrid’s most prestigious museums, such as the Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofia, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Prado Medialab, and CaixaForum Madrid by Herzog & de Meuron, which is located diagonally across from the MAM site. The Museo de Arquitectura wants to play ball with its older cousins.
I chose to preserve a large portion of the existing building because it felt more appropriate to build on history than to start totally fresh, especially in a historical city such as Madrid, and considering a museum of architecture should showcase both contemporary and historical works. At the same time I wasn’t afraid to make much-needed alterations and additions to the existing building, such as opening up its two façades to the street and adding the height necessary to fit the museum’s programmatic needs. While the old and new are allowed to work together, it should be clear which is which, and that’s why the additions are of a different material and scale than the old building.
Exhibiting architecture poses some challenges because works of architecture vary greatly in scale - from drawings and video animations to models and full-size mockups. To successfully exhibit architectural projects a museum of architecture must be able to accommodate objects of varying scales, often in the same space. This explains the museum’s many double-, triple-, and even quadruple-height spaces: there is no telling what crazy things architects will design out of their fever dreams. On the other hand, a curatorial benefit of architectural works is that except for older one-off drawings, such works may be exhibited in natural light without causing them significant harm. This is another reason MAM contains multiple large lightwells and windows.
Indeed, it is MAM's illuminated interiors that contrast it with most other museums. In this way the museum would be a beacon for art and architecture, literally and figuratively.