Named after the Queen Sophia of Spain, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia or Queen Sofia National Museum Art Centre is Spain‘s national museum housing the art of the 20th Century. It is located in Madrid and was officially inaugurated on September 10, 1992. Dedicated to modern Spanish art, besides internationally celebrated artists, it proudly presents the collection of artworks created by the hands of world-renowned Spanish artists like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali,  Joan Miró, Eduardo Chillida, Pablo Gargallo, Julio González and Juan Gris. Guernica, a 1937 anti-war painting by Pablo Picasso demonstrating the tragedies of war and the resultant suffering inflicted on innocent civilians, is the highlighted and most sought-after artwork held in the museum. 

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Museo Reina Sofia_ ©Lena Ivanova

A Point of Departure | Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

An art centre marking Spain’s transition into a democratic nation, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is a hub for outstanding international and national representation of avant-gardes and neo-avant-gardes. The museum body is a work of art, a medium for Spain to break the monotony of pre-existing orthodox mainstream museums and develop new modern narration that had been absent in the Spanish context. The Founding of this museum is a point of departure in Spain’s socio-cultural and artistic front, allowing for newer models of story-telling, rethinking history, and artistic expression. 

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Guernica by Pablo Picasso_ ©Aptus

The Museo Reina Sofia functions beyond a regular art centre in that it works with a diverse range of agents and institutions, resulting in a network that operates past a hub for housing art and a lieu for cultural exchange. It enters a sphere of strengthening the public where individuals from multitudes of backgrounds and opinions can participate, question, build, and reject, resulting in an individualistic and collective artistic experience. The museum acknowledges the heterogeneous composition of its audience and, in doing so, uniquely addresses the artistic hunger in these varied groups of individuals, a point of departure in the Spanish art front. 


The present museum body culminates decades of transformation and intricate planning. The first General Hospital of Madrid stood once where the old building wing currently stands. King Philip II of Spain and later King Charles III of Spain were behind the development of the hospital. Originally designed by architect Jose Agustín de Hermosilla in 1756, the design was completed by his successor, an Italian architect by the name of Francesco Sabatini, during the second half of the 18th century. The building functioned as a hospital up until 1968, after which it was abandoned and underwent deterioration in the subsequent years. It was then acquired in 1976 by the Ministry of Education, resulting in its rejuvenation as art and culture centre. As evidence of the culmination of democracy in Spain, it would become Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía four years later.

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Courtyard in Old Hospital Building_ ©Lantomferry

The museum’s new wing was inaugurated in 2005 due to the studies performed in 1999 on the feasibility of expanding the museum’s floor area to address the museum’s increase in activities and art collection. A French architect Jean Nouvel was chosen through an international bid for the expansion work due to his progressive design proposal that envisioned the museum as a body with an active role in the neighbourhood. His design would result in a museum body that intervenes in and transforms the urban form while simultaneously generating new services in the museum and providing a public square to the neighbourhood. Today the museum body has departed from its original form and in doing so changed the city’s spatial vocabulary. 

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Exterior view of the new wing_ ©Lena Ivanova

Material and Structure

The new extension makes a deft use and manipulation of the latest techniques and materials to achieve the goals set by the design proposal. The use of fibreglass and polyester that coat the auditorium building both on the outside and on the inside gives it a characteristic reddish colour whereas the extruded aluminium protection sheets are used in facades for the rest of the blocks. Rolled steel sections are used in the construction of the library and the temporary exhibition building with beams and columns made with 5 cm thick sheets cut with a laser and welded in the workshops. The auditorium has been built with the post-tensioned concrete system complete with two symmetrically placed ribs that bear loads of the auditoriums and the protocol room. Another feature worth noting would be the alucore- and zinc-coated aerodynamic roof of almost 8000 m² that spans six meters of the terraces where the buildings end. Supported by a slender metallic column covering the entire plot and the pavements around it, the roof demonstrated extraordinary projections reaching up to 36 m.

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The giant roof connecting the blocks_ ©Lena Ivanova

Spatial Vocabulary | Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Standing in harmony with an old wing transformed from a hospital to house the functions of an art centre is the new extension of 8600 sq. ft., accounting for an increase in the area of more than 60% of the surface of the old building. With a strategy of differentiating functions and spaces arranged in buildings around a public square that are perceptively unified under a roof, the space becomes tangible and subsequently immaterial through a byplay of surprises. Spatial provisions for temporary exhibitions, an auditorium with a capacity to hold 500 seats, a 200-seat auditorium, a bookshop, restaurants and administrative offices, and temporary exhibitions have been made. Shelving 250,000 books, a Jatoba wood library with a hundred reading stations add to the completeness of the centre. 

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Connection and annex within the blocks_ ©Lena Ivanova

The extension in the form of three buildings surrounding a public square connects to the Sabatini building in a spatially coherent way, with the access within the complex depending on their use and the user. A dialogue between the two wings is evident in contrasts such as the massive and opaque. Sabatini building is counterbalanced by the levity, transparency, and dematerialisation, resulting through the manipulation of glass of the new block. In doing so, the architectonic barriers between the complex and the city are defined and dissolved in turns such that it adds to the value of the museum and its collections and activities and fulfilled its obligation not just to the past, present, and future of contemporary art but to the urban surrounding that houses it. 

Connection to the urban fabric_ ©Lena Ivanova


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Re-thinkingthefuture (2023). Museums of the world Museo Reina Sofia [Online] Available at: [Accessed February 18 2023]

Google Arts and Culture (2023) Museo Reina Sofia. [Online] Available at: [Accessed February 18 2023]

Museo Reina Sofia (2023). Museo Reina Sofia. [Online] Available at: [Accessed February 18 2023]

Wikipedia (2023). Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia [Online] Available at: [Accessed February 18 2023]

Arcelormittal (2023). Reina Sofía Museum extension: Respecting the past and celebrating the future [Online] Available at: [Accessed February 18 2023]


An architecture and art enthusiast, Rashmi Gautam, is an Architecture Student from Nepal in search of her own expression in forms of words and design. Finding solace in the company of literature, art and architecture, she can be found brooding in the nearest library or museum.