Madrid City Hall to forbid owner of Edificio España from tearing it down

Chinese group claims it is impossible to keep façade intact; expert says it is just costlier

Edificio España once housed a hotel, office space and apartments.
Edificio España once housed a hotel, office space and apartments.RICARDO GUTIÉRREZ

Madrid authorities will not allow the new owner of a landmark building on the city’s Plaza España to tear it down and rebuild it, municipal sources have told EL PAÍS.

In 2014, the Chinese real estate conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group bought Edificio España, an iconic skyscraper from the 1950s that has been lying vacant since 2007.

Under the deal, the city allowed the proprietor to tear down part of the 25-story structure but stipulated that the façade and side wings should remain intact.

If we’ve been to the Moon, there’s almost nothing that is technically impossible. The thing is, going to the Moon is extremely expensive”

Ricardo Aroca, former head of Madrid Architects' Association

Now, however, Dalian Wanda claims that the Local Historical Heritage Committee’s instructions are “not viable” for architectural and safety reasons. Instead, it wants to demolish the entire construction and rebuild the façade to make it look exactly the same again, using similar materials that comply with modern building standards.

The request was not well received in Madrid City Hall, now in the hands of a leftist bloc named Ahora Madrid after a quarter century of conservative rule by the Popular Party.

The Madrid Professional Association of Architects even asked Mayor Manuela Carmena to hold a referendum on the issue, to see whether the locals support or oppose the move.

From glory to dereliction

B. G. G.

Edificio España was built between 1948 and 1953, during the Franco regime, by brothers José María and Julián Otamendi, following the style of the Chicago School. Once Europe’s tallest building, it originally housed a hotel and apartments.

Banco Santander bought Edificio España from the constructor Metrovacesa in June 2005, paying €389 million for the acquisition. It then commissioned the Norman Foster and Carlos Lamela architects’ studios to restore the building.

The building is 117 meters high and comprises 25 floors, with 67,400 square meters above ground, plus an additional 9,700 square meters below ground level. The banking group asked the city for permission to double the shopping space, while the hotel would take up 22,000 square meters and another 30,400 square meters would be given over to 300 luxury homes.

But when the economic crisis hit, real estate prices bottomed out, and in July 2014 Banco Santander sold the building to Dalian Wanda Group for €265 million.

“This is not a private matter, it’s a public issue between Madrileños and their city,” said José María Ezquiaga, head of the association.

Local government sources have told EL PAÍS that the department of city planning will instruct Dalian Wanda to maintain as much of the main body of the building as necessary to prop up the façade, which may not be demolished in any case.

The company, which is chaired by Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man according to Forbes magazine, says that “the consolidation of the façade is not viable under safe conditions. There are no prior references or similar experiences relating to maintaining a structure of similar height and dimensions, which additionally lacks bearing capacity.”

“It is possible, however, to take it apart and later rebuild it, preserving its image and scenic value, something for which there are precedents and earlier experiences validated by architectural culture and heritage protection,” according to the Chinese group, which wants to preserve the lower part of the façade, and rebuild the rest using the same materials.

But Ricardo Aroca, former head of the Madrid Professional Association of Architects and a university professor who teaches structure calculus, thinks that it is indeed possible to tear down the building while preserving the façade.

“It is viable and it is not unsafe, but it is definitely more expensive,” says Aroca, a top expert on the subject.

“It’s not just about wind resistance; you also have to conserve the weight of the building, or at least an important part of it, in order to hold up the façade. But you can combine demolition and reconstruction, undoing here while you redo there. It would take a lot longer and cost more money, of course. But if we’ve been to the Moon, there’s almost nothing that is technically impossible. The thing is, going to the Moon is extremely expensive.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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