Architecture in Madrid: the most interesting museums extensions

Good morning everyone! This time I will take you to Madrid and I will guide you through its most important art museums, some of which are among the most famous in the world. In particular I will talk about the new extensions of the historical sites, designed by famous contemporary archistar, with the exception of the last of this overview that is a reconversion of a pre-existing building. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time, I did not have the pleasure of visiting the whole city, but I managed to concentrate the visit of these 4 museums in 3 days. If I did it, you can do it too!

I arrived in Madrid by train from Cordoba (I’ll talk about it here in my previous article). The Atocha train station, near Puerta de Atocha, is an architectural work by Eiffel, the French engineer who designed the Tour Effeil in Paris, as well as the statue of liberty in New York. At present the original structure of the station has undergone significant expansions in order to make railway transport and the connections with the airport functional and easy.

Madrid Atocha
Vista esterna della stazione di Atocha

EL Prado Museum:

The first museum I visited was the Prado. Built in 1783 on commission of King Charles III as a museum of natural history, it suffered the invasion of the Napoleonic troops who turned it into a barracks. Subsequently the building acquired its current art museum destination, welcoming the collections of paintings and statues of the king of Spain, fruit of centuries-old heritage. In 1996 a competition was launched to expand the museum and in 1998, Rafael Moneo’s project was declared the winner. In 2007, the new wing that houses a second ticket office, a café-restaurant, bookshop, offices and new exhibition rooms is inaugurated.

This is an excellent example of museum extension and reorganization that takes into account the historical importance of a pre-existing element: the cloister of San Jeronimo el Real. This renovation and construction of the new has been much disputed, because they have been removed and numbered each stone of the cloister and then rebuild it identical to before but with a plateau no longer tilted. In any case, Moneo succeeds in respecting the original building and creating a connection with the church of San Jeronimos and the Spanish Academy.

Reina Sofia of Madrid:

The pre-existing building dates back to 1788 and was designed  to accommodate a hospital. But from this moment on it is continually modified and then closed in 1965. Fortunately, in 1977 it was declared a Historic and Artistic Monument and in 1980 the redevelopment works by Antonio Fernández Alba were resumed. In April 1986 it reopened with the name of Reina Sofia Art Center but only the ground floor and the first floor were used. The two large structural glass elevator towers, seen in photos, were designed by José Luis Iñiguez de Onzoño and Antonio Vázquez de Castro together with the English architect Ian Ritchie.

Madrid Museo Reina Sofia

The expansion and renewal works have not stopped here, in fact it is right to mention the new structure of Jean Nouvel completed in 2005 after four years of work. This new building, slightly detached from the historic building, houses two rooms for permanent exhibitions, some galleries for temporary exhibitions, an auditorium, congress halls, a library and a café-restaurant. With this new addition the continuity between the present and the past was fundamental, and here Jean Nouvel succeeded in designing a cherry-red cover that recalls the brick-colored roofs of Madrid.

This element was certainly decisive for winning the competition, which was attended by other world-renowned archistars (Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando etc …). Nouvel’s work does not touch the façade of the pre-existing building in the slightest, but at the same time joins everything without giving a sense of heaviness. To create this sense of lightness, the architect has pierced the roof in such a way as to let light and air enter the inner courtyard. In this way, with this intervention, it is not easy to create an “urban hinge” between Atocha station and the Lavapies district, now one of the trendiest quarters in Madrid.

Madrid Reina Sofia
External view of the Reina Sofia extension. Credit:
Madrid Reina Sofia
Reina Sofia extension. Foto credit:

Thyssen Bornemitza

Unfortunately I could not visit this museum, but I could not fail to mention it, especially because of the importance of the works inside it and then because it is another fine example of a renovated and enlarged museum.

Recently restored by architect Rafael Moneo, the main core of the museum is inside the palace of Villahermosa (about 1700), designed by Antonio Lopez Aguado in neoclassical style. Originally this building belonged to the dukes of Villahermosa, patrons of art and literature, and was used as a luxury retreat on the edge of the city. It is then used as a bank and then as an annex of the Prado museum. When there were various renovations and extensions, the entrance was moved from the main street to the garden, in order to create greater breath and tranquility for the visitor who enters it. The whitewashed building in a contemporary style houses the personal collection of Baroness Carmen.

Madrid museo Thyssen Bornemisza
Disegno del museo, Villa Hermosa + ala nuova. Credit:

Initially, however, the collection was exhibited in the Villa Favorita in Castognola (Lugano) and was moved to Madrid to prevent the dispersion among the various heirs of Baron Hans Heinrich. The collection consists of works of art that start from the medieval Italian period to Venetian painting, from the impressionist style to North American painting. Not to mention various Cubist and Pop Art works.

Madrid Thyssen Bornemisza
Thyssen Bornemisza museum extension.

Caixa Forum Madrid

This building is a cultural center that rotates on various exhibitions of ancient, modern and contemporary art, but not only. In fact, in addition to these exhibitions of painting music festivals and poetry take place, and there is space for training workshops for families too. The most striking thing is the peculiarity of the external façade: it is not a newly constructed building, but the renovation of an old Mediodía power plant by the architects Herzog & De Meuron. But the two fundamental elements that characterize it are the vertical garden and the emptying on the ground floor, which gives a sense of “absence of gravity”. In truth, the building is supported by three pedestals covered with dark crystal.

Madrid Caixa Forum

Another innovative element that blends well with the brick façade is the new Corten cover. It is pierced, but this effect is perceived only from a very close distance. In fact, as you can see from the photos you can see these mini cracks from the inside, in this case from the bar. In this way, very special light and shadow effects are created, but at the same time it does not prevent the splendid external view.

Madrid Caixa forum
Interior of the bar on the top floor. Caixa Forum

CaixaForum hosts the ticket office and bookshop, exhibition halls, an auditorium in the basement with 322 seats and some conference rooms on the first floor. Finally, as already mentioned, there is a café / restaurant on the top floor.

I hope this small architectural tour has been useful! We will resend as soon as possible with new articles.

See you! Besos!

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