Architecture, Travel

Coderch’s Madrid Sunflower


[Ian Macready]
Il Girasol apartment building in Madrid from 1966 by Coderch

It’s strange that in the English language version of Wikipedia, Josep Antoni Coderch merits only 3 lines, although he is marked down as one of the most important post-war Spanish architects so I suppose that is something. Maybe it’s because his work is distinctly unflashy. I remember years ago being told by an architect friend to go and look at an early apartment building that Coderch had designed in Barcelona – the Casa de la Marina built in the mid 1950s in the old port area of Barceloneta. Yep, it was nice enough – a 9 storey building with a faceted facade of vertical ceramic tiles and louvred wooden shutters above a very sober ground floor. Of course it’s genius lies in its floor plan, rather than the beauty of its facades. The original commission was to create lodgings for retired seamen, with two 6 person apartments on each floor and make the best use of the constrained site.  The complex arrangement makes the best use of the area with kitchens and bathrooms located next to the central core, and the bedrooms and living rooms around the edges with access to natural light and ventilation. The building is seen as a masterpiece of Spanish 20th century architecture.

A little more interesting to view from the outside is Coderch’s apartment building from 1966 in Madrid, named Il Girasol, the sunflower. It is based on the same thought process – maximising the internal space and creating privacy for the residents (although this time in one of Madrid’s smartest neighbourhoods, rather than the then low budget port of Barceloneta) but with generous balconies and access to light. The curving sinuous external wall floats above the access to the ground floor and creates a disarming lightness to the building, enhanced by the vertically arranged ceramic tiles and the transparency of the wooden slatted sun shades. It owes much in its inspiration to the work of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, one of Coderch’s architectural heroes, but remains very Spanish in feel.  The project perfectly sums up the character of Coderch as described by himself or rather his wife,  in one of those Proust questionnaires: “My wife says that I am impulsive, extravagant and that I have a certain obsession with rectitude”.

In all his writing, his architecture and his way of doing business, his moral propriety was at the forefront. He remained convinced of the potential to do good things with architecture. From his letter to Domus Magazine in 1961: “In place of money, success, the excess of property or profit, in place of superficiality , hurry, the absence of spiritual life or awareness, we must set dedication, craft, goodwill, time, our daily bread, and above all, love, which is acceptance and giving, not possession and domination”. Passionate words often missing from today’s debate, and should, alongside his body of work, make him worthy of a few more lines in Wikipedia.

Casa de Marina Barcelona
The faceted facade and wooden louvred shutters
The complex floor plan
An old shot of the interior
From the main street, the stepped facade
The curved walls on the side street
The balconies and wooden slats to provide sun protection
The building plan
Coderch's original sketch scanned from the monograph edited by Gustavo Gili
Another view of the arrangement of the windows and balconies
The curving external wall hovering above the ground floor commercial spaces.