Norman Foster drops plans to create his foundation in Madrid

Heritage committee vetoes architect’s proposals to alter historic mansion

The Madrid mansion where Foster had planned to set up his foundation.
The Madrid mansion where Foster had planned to set up his foundation.SAMUEL SÁNCHEZ

Norman Foster has canceled plans to establish the headquarters of his foundation – which was to be dedicated to architecture, urban planning, art and design, as well as hosting his sizeable personal archive – in Madrid.

The British architect had purchased an historic mansion in the capital’s central Chamberí district for the purpose of the project and created an urban plan to allow him to remodel it as he wanted.

Madrid City Hall approved Foster’s plans, but, as the building is listed as protected, he still had to send them to the public committee responsible for preserving the city’s cultural heritage. Upon doing so, he added a series of changes to the approved plan. The committee accepted the project, but rejected some of those changes.

Foster’s office declined to reveal whether the foundation would now be set up elsewhere

Foster informed City Hall of his intention to cancel the project a short while after learning of the decision, EL PAÍS has learned. His office cited personal reasons, but declined to give further explanations or reveal whether the foundation would now be set up elsewhere – in Spain or abroad – or be shelved for good.

One of the world’s most influential architects, Foster has a studio in Madrid, and also designed the Torre Bankia, one of the Cuatro Torres skyscrapers situated at the northern end of the capital’s long Paseo de la Castellana boulevard. He has been married to the Spanish gallery owner and publisher Elena Ochoa since 1996.

British architect Norman Foster.
British architect Norman Foster.Uly Martin (EL PAÍS)

The 1999 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner bought the mansion, situated at 48 Monte Esquinza street, from Spanish bank Bankia last spring for just over €9 million. Built by architect Joaquín Saldaña in 1902 as the residence of the Duke of Plasencia, it later became an embassy and finally the headquarters of Altae Banco, which became part of Bankia in 2011 and subsequently moved offices.

Foster registered a foundation bearing his name and headquartered in London in 1999. His plan had been to open a center in Madrid in the next few months that went beyond its status as a museum and archive, turning its exhibitions, debates and publications into the main attraction. It was also set to house a permanent display of the models, drawings, plans and films he created for his many buildings around the world, as well as a selection from his and his wife’s art collection. A café, terrace and bookstore were also planned.

Madrid City Hall was not set to contribute funds to the project, but did approve the plans drawn up for it last November. It also promoted it as an essential attraction for reactivating tourism and the local economy. “We are managing strategic operations such as the establishment of the Foster Foundation,” said Mayor Ana Botella of the Popular Party last year.

The center was set to house a permanent display of his models, drawings, plans and films for his many buildings

But according to City Hall sources, the foundation sent the local heritage committee a proposal containing several changes that were incompatible with the urban plan that it itself had drawn up as they endangered the protection of the building as a whole.

The sources added that the final report was generally positive, with a series of limitations, some of which were open to reevaluation.

Nevertheless, the architect has now sent a letter to municipal authorities informing them of the suspension of the project in order “to decide on the suitability of the location,” which they fear is definitive.

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