Rehabilitation of buildings: The Genius loci

Genius loci in rehabilitation

The first two things we learn in architecture schools are the issue of scale and the importance of place and environment. The first Latin word we were taught refers to this second aspect. The genius loci is the protective spirit of a site. Nowadays, this term generally refers to the characteristic or distinctive aspects of a place and not necessarily to a guardian spirit.

Plan Reform of the Beatriz Building foyer

The Beatriz Building

On the corner of Ortega y Gasset and Velázquez streets in Madrid there must be a very marked and special spirit floating around, for after housing a cloistered convent, La Concepción Jerónima, founded by the distinguished writer and humanist Beatriz Galindo, it has gone on, radically changing its use, to house an office building, the Beatriz, as closed in on itself as that religious construction. Eleuterio Población, (Huelva 1928) resolved the commission by endowing the project with an absolutely introverted character. To do so, he surrounded it with a thick skin that functions as a defence against the city. It is a mesh made up of prefabricated pieces in pale pink mortar that make up this infinite, rotund and compact weave. So dense is it that the floor-to-ceiling openings evoke the arrow slits of medieval fortresses. There is something of the castle, of the monastery, in this solution, perhaps inspired by the grille of that old convent which is still preserved in the cellars of the Beatriz.

Grille refurbishment of main lobby Beatriz Building


To understand this building, we must remember that the headquarters of the Lambert Bank in Brussels is a direct precedent for its introspective and intimate nature. Likewise, the project sets the volume of these offices back from the surrounding streets, redounding in the idea of self-absorption that gives so much personality to this piece in the middle of the city. Here the reference that immediately comes to mind is Mies van Der Rohe's grandiose Seagram in New York. Like the German genius, Eleuterio Población was also obsessed by proportion, so that both architects set their works back from the streets so that they can be seen in perspective by passers-by.

Construction of the façade and refurbishment of the Beatriz Building lobby.

But Población went further by exploring the concept of looking inwards, as shown in a film made by the Madrid School of Architecture. In the video, the students who visit the building are surprised to find themselves enclosed by a two-metre-high wall on the rooftop, which is the strip that finishes off the Beatriz and prevents them from seeing the city. When asked about this, the architect said that, compositional needs aside, he was enthusiastic about this monastic courtyard which invites them to retreat to the top of the building.

Refurbishment of the Beatriz Building entrance hall prefabricated façade elements

The refurbishment of the main hall

So this corporate building replaces that humble convent while retaining the idea of looking inwards. The city is changing, and, along with replacement, the other mechanism used by the city to renew itself is refurbishment. As the years go by, the Beatriz building will renovate its vestibule to welcome and bid a warm welcome to its visitors. Antana the castle's drawbridge.



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