Every place, every city has the visual language that defines itself. The city of Madrid has an overwhelming number of structures, each of which has a story to tell. The process of designing in Madrid would not impact only the unbuilt site but also the built-unbuilt context. It adds to the tales to a tapestry that is experienced while moving around in the city. Introducing an unknown in the realms of life of the city rich in cultural history and architecture could change the dimensions of the visual language of the buildings around. Thus, a few elements that should be given importance to, were identified. These ten factors are listed below.

1. Identifying and accessing cultural significance

El Palacio Real de El Pardo

The richness of the culture becomes a source of inspiration for the design of the future. Learning about the structures significant in history shows not only aesthetical design but also functional significance. After the reconquest of Spain, construction of buildings began to mark a time in history. One such structure was El Palacio Real de El Pardo, a palace commissioned by Enrique III. The palace was occupied as a residence by the royalties of Spain. 

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2. Managing change to conserve the cultural heritage 

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Protecting the cultural heritage and its values for the future is an obligation. The use of modern technologies and methodology is adopted to protect and preserve the architectural and cultural history. Yet, the most effective way to conserve cultural heritage is adaptive reuse. 

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The Architects redeveloped a residential building built in the 60s in a traditional neighborhood of Madrid into a coliving space for about 20 people. They used the concept defined by an Urban Sociologist Ray Oldenburg, “third place”. This theory defines the aspect of human psychological fulfillment that is achieved from creating a space for interaction between the realms of home and workplace.

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The spatial arrangements consisted of shared spaces such as kitchen, co-working space, living room, parking, and terrace, between the people inhabiting the space. Every room has a bathroom attached to them for privacy. The users of the buildings are mainly students or workers that do not belong to the local community and the shared experience provides a sense of belonging to them.

3. Consideration for environmental sustainability

Madrid dormitory town of Tres Cantos

For the ecological balance to be maintained, sustainable practices are mandatory for implementation. The Madrid dormitory town of Tree Cantos is a modestly priced residential complex certified as LEED platinum. The complex comprises 80 resource-efficient apartments occupied by 225 people belonging to the age group of the 30s and 40s. The building is efficient in energy and water and helps to cope up with the heat waves hitting the city using the climate control system maintaining an optimum internal environment. The building is an exceptional example of sustainable architecture in the city of Madrid.

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4. Life of the Streets

Gardens in Plaza de Espaῆa

To understand the culture of a place, learn about the streets, and its functions. Streets act as the highest source of metaphysical essence and energies. Madrid is a city that shows the sign of liveliness through its streetscape. When the harsh winter fangs subside, and the essence of spring marks the beginning of a pleasant time of occupying volumes in the unbuilt, humans do not hesitate to do so. The Gardens of Plaza de Espana is quite popular among the locals as well as tourists. The people experience the life of the city, take in the rich and varied heritage surrounding them through the street. Understanding how the street functions as a public space is an important design factor to be considered. 

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5. Zonation- Linkage between functions to spaces (Statutory Framework)


The relationship of the spatial arrangements to their functions is interestingly planned. Madrid’s old tobacco factory is currently occupied as a community space managed by the citizens occupying the neighborhood. The factory is utilized as an adaptive reuse project in which different rooms are assigned to ideas and projects, not people. The rooms are mostly shared spaces that allow for the mingling of diverse groups of people.  

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6. Enhancing the quality of Life (Ordinance Plan)

Carabanchel 16

The main objective of Madrid’s Ordinance plan was to improve the condition of the community as a whole. It focuses on the holistic development of the place and its users. One of the issues identified was the shortage of affordable housing in Madrid. Carabanchel 16 served as a sustainable housing solution for the people to enhance their quality of life in the city of Madrid. The 88-unit housing building was designed by Alejandro Zaera Polo of Foreign Office Architects to provide for the shortage of affordable housing for the community of Madrid. The structure was designed following the aesthetics and functionality of the spaces. The housing complex catered to the need to channelize the natural resources into the structure. The use of folded bamboo shutters assists in keeping the abundant amount of sunlight and heat to enter through the complex. The users can manually operate the element according to their convenience. The varying degree of the ever-changing profile of the bamboo louver in different angles also paves the way to an interesting game of light and shadow.

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7. Visual Identity- Blending in or standing out?

Carabanchel 24

The visual identity is necessary for the imageability and wayfinding in the city. The Carabanchel 24, a building in Madrid, is housing in vibrant colored and simple, and rectangular facades. The bright colors evoke a perception of a vibrant urban environment acting as a landmark for that area. The colors are significant and distinct and dominate the other structures in the area as they follow the same visual language, creating a line of monotonous facades. The colorful structure not only breaks the monotony but also adds an aesthetic sense to the place. The building promotes an inviting and welcoming gesture and tends to impact positively on anyone whose gaze falls on it. 

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8. Urban Areas to consider the application of the biosphere reserve principles (Seville Strategy) 

Sierra del Rincón

The balance of nature not maintained causes consequences. The Seville Strategy introduces the concept of the Biosphere Reserve and how it is necessary. It not only promotes sustainable economic activities but also maintains the ecology. When they become a part of the urban areas, it will facilitate community engagement and a ground for interaction and exchange of ideas. Hayedo de Montejo (Sierra del Rincon), declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO is one of Madrid’s extraordinary sites, located on the banks of the Jarama river that arrests the tourists in the beauty of nature. The locals managed to establish a sustainable relationship with the biosphere reserve. The rich landscape, abundant with trees and species of varying kinds, and its network of development of a sustainable ecosystem is a paradigm for the selected list of places globally to make up the network of a biosphere reserve. 

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9. Modernizing traditional architecture or traditionalizing modern architecture?

Casa Gallardo

A mandatory trait for architectural design is its adaptability and flexibility. With the advent of modernism, an approach of incorporating elements of aesthetics into the architectural design was influenced by the introduction of modernismo, Spanish expression of Art-Nouveau. Casa Gallardo is a representation of the movement. As an important modernist building, the Casa Gallardo allows for the passerby to appreciate the heavily ornamented building that does not stand for contemporary times but also holds an element of its cultural background. 

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10. Reflection of History

Palacio da Bolsa

Every city has a historical background. A history that needs not to be forgotten. A history conveyed through time and time for generations and generations. The design interventions should incorporate a pattern of reflecting history. The name Madrid was derived from the initial name that was given to the city by the Arabs, Magerit, which means a place of many streams. The land proved to be beneficial for the people of the deserts with water since it’s a prime element. Thus, the war between the Christians and the Moors led to the erection of massive, monumental structures to prove their identity. Palacio da Bolsa is one such beauty that was built as a stock exchange building in the 19th century. The interior is extravagantly ornamented reflecting the luxurious and rich artistic culture of the land. Currently, the palace is utilized in receiving the heads of the states and other dignitaries reflecting on how it was a European center of investment in the past.

The influence of design is not limited only to the users but it also shapes the life in and around the city. It is important to analyze the unique as well as the common smallest addressable elements that impact design. The designers are responsible for maintaining harmony in the natural as well as the built environment.

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Dania Irshad, a prefinal year student, pursuing B.Arch from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, focuses her intent as an architect with a social conscience who not only wishes to design only for the users for also in consideration of the environment. She is a voracious reader as well has her passion in writing.

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