Tuesday, 12 June 2007

New Prado Museum Extension

I went to visit the new extension to the Prado Museum. Except for a short but fun photographic series of pictures of people looking at pictures, there's no exhibition yet; the visit is just to admire the architecture. Well, I didn't admire it much. Granted, we didn't take the guided tour so perhaps we missed the explanation of what an achievement it is. Unfortunately the map we were given at the door was just that, with no explanation at all, although there is a quite good article about the building in English on the Website of the Culture Ministry.

The building has been designed by official fave architect Rafael Moneo. It seems like a spacious and functional building that makes maximum use of the space available (and the cloister of the church next door). From the shape of the rooms, asymmetrical spaces and odd angles on different levels, up and down escalators, so unlike the clean lines of the original Villanueva building, it's evident that one of the design priorities was to maximise use of every square metre of the available space. But it's not one that merits going there specially to look at the building, any more than one would the original one. I was reminded of the also recently-opened extension to the Reina Sofía Modern Art Museum which is so different. That building, with it's smooth, curved, blood-red walls reminiscent of a boat hull, seems to be designed not to make maximum use of the available site area but rather to enclose it in empty and unused spaces. The Reina Sofía museum extension certainly makes a bold gesture, while the Prado offering is an understatement.

The main door, a naturalistic tree-bark design by current official favourite sculptor Cristina Iglesias seemed oddly elaborate in what is otherwise a rather drab and plain design. Thinking of it as a work of sculpture rather than a door, it does seem appropriate for an art museum.

Clositer of the Jerónimos, now incorporated into the Prado museum extensionThe cloister seems like a good way to restore a derelict building, although I wonder whether it is necessary to take over a building in order to care for it. Leaving the Prado extension building I noticed scaffolding on the Jerónimos church, and also the sadly delapidated state of the façade; maybe the powers that be have realised after the event that it's a good idea to look after the buildings you already have before you start putting up new ones.