Projects | José Rafael Moneo | Professor 
The National Museum of Roman Art
1980-85, Inauguration 1986 

Mérida was the most important city in Spain at the end of the Roman Empire. The presence of the Theater and the Arena stand out among the ruins of its past. Not far from these monumental relics is the site for the museum. The first intention of the project was to build a museum which would offer to the people of Mérida an opportunity to recover the lost presence of the Roman town over which the new city had been built. Moreover, a certain will to recall and evoke the Roman past can be felt in the project: the museum, without falling into a strict imitation of Roman architecture, tries to suggest to the visitor how the Roman Mérida was in its time. The desire to approach the Roman world that is the basis of the project is satisfied by literally adopting Roman construction systems and not by merely applying moldings and orders. For that reason, the Roman construction system—massive masonry-bearing walls filled with concrete—has given rise to a building in which the structure of the walls gives formal support to the architecture, an architecture of walls, in which the problem of intervals, proportions, and openings are the key elements. A system of parallel walls is hollowed out by means of a large arch, forming a virtual perspective, a nave that is the main space for some of the museum's the most valuable pieces. The translucent white marble of the relics may be seen in dialectical interplay with the material presence of the brick wall in so far as the natural illumination entering through skylights in most cases stimulates the dialogue between the works of art and the walls. The crypt clearly shows the museum's proposal to uncover the presence of the old Roman city. 

Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation

The construction of the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation in Palma de Mallorca was made possible thanks to the generosity of Pilar Juncosa, the widow of the artist, who wanted to realize the desire that Joan Miró expressed in his will, which was to donate the studio of Son Abrines and an important part of his work to the city in which he lived so many years. From the beginning, the foundation contained a center for scholars and artists. 

The new construction was conceived taking into account the powerful presence of the artist's studio (the work of Josep Lluís Sert) and of the house built for Pilar and Joan Miró by the architect Juncosa, both situated on a pleasant south-facing slope, with views of the bay of Palma, on land belonging to an 18th century house that gave the property its name, Son Abrines. The design of the new building reacts energetically to the degeneration of the site caused by cheap construction and negligent real estate speculation of the 1970s, and for that reason the foundation takes on forms similar to those of a fortress or citadel. 

To recuperate the lost presence of the sea—now blocked by the zone's over-development—the roof of the gallery was transformed into a floating pool. The water and the gardens surrounding the foundation were also planned to act as buffers against the hostile environment. Accordingly, the architecture deliberately ignores its surroundings. The windows are protected by concrete louvers and an alabaster membrane filters the light transforming the heavy walls into weightless screens. The low windows force visual contact with the garden where examples of Miró's sculpture appear with the dense Mediterranean vegetation. 

The new gallery attempts to capture the character of the of the work of Miró that has always celebrated liberty and life. Moneo wanted the unique, singular and non-repeatable character of the artist's work to find an appropriate atmosphere in the indefinable and broken condition of the gallery. 

Extension to the Atocha Railway Station
Madrid 1984-92 

The determination of the Spanish Ministry of Transportation to carry out a total overhaul of the old Atocha Station and quadruple its capacity, and the proposal put forward by City Hall in the Master Plan to free the Glorieta de Carlos V from an existing traffic overpass, are the two poles around which the complex urban piece we might call "Operation Atocha" revolves. The old canopy, the station square, the commuter train station, and the long distance train station make up the principal elements of the project. 

The old canopy. The old canopy built by Alberto del Palacio is conserved in its entirety and accommodates all of its former services and activities. Its exterior image has been reinforced by the erection of a clock tower over the station square. 

The station square is a pleasant open space, enriched by a high turnover of pedestrians and a rich and varied commercial activity and by the beauty of the old station, which can now shine in all its splendor. 

Commuter train station. The intercambiador is in fact the key architectural piece of Operation Atocha. Its exterior image, resembling a lantern, emerges as a testimony to the complex architecture existing beneath the 628.50-meter level. From afar it acts as a landmark to orient travelers, its assertive, cylindrical form acting as a necessary point of encounter between the diverse factories of the Atocha quarter. 

Long-distance train station. It was decided that the design of the roof should be closely linked to the pattern of the tracks, for reasons ranging from volumetric discretion—so as not to compete with the scale of the grand old station—to constructive considerations—a solution involving a large-span structure would not have been compatible with the foundations and the dense traffic network beneath. In addition, strictly formal and aesthetic reasons lead one to think that the roof of a modern-day station should reflect, more than anything else, the weight of its surface and the enormous size of the railway yard. 

Parking. The roof of the commuter station gives rise, at the 624.30-meter level, to a parking lot for 669 vehicles. In addition there are two parking areas around the long-distance station zone. 

Kursaal Auditorium and Congress Center
San Sebastián 1989-99 

The beauty of San Sebastián is largely due to its environment, to its landscape. Few cities are endowed with more favorable natural conditions. The site of the Kursaal Auditorium and Congress Center at the mouth of the Urumea River is a geographical accident and must remain as such. Hence, Moneo proposed to erect a building that would not violate the presence of the river in the city. The auditorium and the congress hall, the key programmatic elements of the scheme, are conceived as separate autonomous volumes, as two gigantic rocks stranded at the mouth of the river forming part of the landscape rather than belonging to the city. All other facilities—the exhibition halls, meeting rooms, offices, a restaurant, and musicians' services—are located in the platform, the base that gives due importance to the cubic volumes. 

The first "stranded rock" that contains the auditorium measures approximately 60 by 48 by 27 meters and celebrates its character of quasi-geographical accident with a slight inclination towards the sea. The volume of the 1,880-seat auditorium is inscribed asymmetrically inside the glass prism, seeming to float within it. The asymmetry is oriented in such a way that a visitor entering the foyer is unconsciously led towards the highest level where Mount Urgull and the sea in all its splendor can be contemplated from a singular window. This window punctures the building's double wall, composed of a steel skeleton clad inside and out with special, laminated glass elements. The result is a neutral and luminous interior space whose only contact with the outside world is through the foyer window. Outside, the glass surfaces protect against salt-laden winds from the sea, making the volume a dense, opaque, yet changing mass by day, and a mysterious and dazzling source of light by night. 

Similar design and structural criteria have been used in planning the smaller congress hall, the second "stranded rock," which is also inscribed in an inclined prism measuring 42 by 36 by 24 meters. The asymmetry here is less evident, but the view from the foyer of Mount Ulía and the sea in the background is just as spectacular. 

The complementary program for the celebration of congresses as well as the exhibition hall, offices and parking for 500 vehicles is placed in the levels below grade, respecting the perimeter and making use of interstitial spaces. 

Museums of Modern Art and Architecture
Stockholm, Sweden 1991-97, Inauguration 1998 

The site selected for the new Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Architecture is on the island of Skeppsholmen, in the space left by the demolition of the pavilion of the former Museum of Modern Art and the open area in front of the Tyghuset. Further development of the program for the Museum of Architecture brought about the proposal of a new wing for the museum adjacent to the gymnasium that allows for the incorporation in the museum complex of building 129, situated on the Svensksundsvägen. 

This particular site was considered for various reasons. The fact that the highest level of the island possesses the necessary surface area for the horizontal layout of the museum proved favorable for the development of the program and also facilitated the construction of a building that would have a minimal impact on the fragile and delicate architecture of the island. The selected site also allowed for a double access to the museum, taking advantage of the difference in level between the Exercisplan and the Slupskjulsvägen. No other place on the island seemed equal to this one in terms of respecting the surroundings and providing the special functions a modern museum must offer the public. 

The character and expression of the building evolved from the consideration for the content of the collections of the two museums. Diversity is the most outstanding characteristic of the collections. On the one hand, the Moderna Museet should conserve and present to the public its valuable collection of contemporary Swedish paintings and sculpture. On the other hand, the museum also possesses extremely important examples of avant garde works of the '50s, '60s, and '70s, including critical pieces by the most prominent artists of this epoch. These works deserve to be displayed in a dignified space worthy of their importance. At the same time, emphasis was placed on the large space which will house the temporary exhibitions, as well as on the complex program which characterizes the Museum of Architecture. 

In addition to this diversity, the architecture of the new museums responds to the delicate surroundings and does not fall into the temptation of "monumentality," while at the same time establishing a dialogue—always in a light and discrete manner—with an environment in which fragmentation and minimal intervention are the most typical characteristics. Accordingly, the architecture is discontinuous, broken, as is the city of Stockholm, always respecting and incorporating a geography rich in accidents to which the architecture adapts, creating a picturesque and lively atmosphere that is, fortunately, never artificial. 

Of critical importance in the making of an architecture with these characteristics that simultaneously serves the required program is the form of the exhibition halls—a key element in a building of this type. They are a mix of square or rectangular halls in which a pyramidal ceiling provides both good illumination and the right height, something we judge to be fundamental for the museum. 

Davis Museum & Cultural Center, Wellesley College
Wellesley, Massachusetts, 1989-93 

The Jewett Art Center is undoubtedly one of Paul Rudolf's finest works. Here his admiration for Wright and for Italian architecture is masterfully revealed, yet without mitigating the building's contribution to the configuration of the beautiful open space of the Wellesley College campus. The site for this museum and film center was a small parking lot behind the Jewett Art Center, so the magnitude of the program called for a high-rise construction from the very start. Dialogue between the new center and the Jewett building became the leitmotiv of the project. Such a dialogue immediately implied the creation of an open interstitial space, which then was quickly conferred into the role of a square. Presiding over the square is the new museum, a vertical mass that confidently asserts its presence and becomes the dominant element of the overall space, engaging in conversation with the keel of the Jewett library. However, the dimensions of the museum are tempered by the volume of offices and services connecting it to the Jewett Center by way of a ramp, and by the irregular mass of the movie theater, which adapts to the geometry of the surrounding roads and subtly relates to Rudolph's building by following one or another of its directrixes. 

The volume of the museum or, better said, the almost cubic space, has been treated with rigor and precision. It is common practice in the history of architecture to cut a square or a cube into sections. Here this is done in an elemental manner, and efforts are made to avoid the idea of a center in favor of upward movement, toward the source of light, which hence becomes the true protagonist of the space. The double staircase divides the floor plan asymmetrically. In this way it offers two alternatives for circulation and imposes its own law in the placement of the various exhibition levels. The verticality imposed by the limited size of the lot has been translated to compactness. 

Yet the immediate adjacency of the halls, a result of such compactness, does not render them overly close to one another. For the double stairway increases the distance between each hall and the one immediately above it, producing the intervals necessary for the display of such a diverse collection of art works. Upon reaching one landing the visitor finds himself on the first floor, where two halls designated to display modern paintings (of the 19th and 20th centuries) are complemented by two others, one for African art and the other for contemporary art. A mezzanine floor accommodates offices and a study room, and it is on this level that the connection to the Jewett Art Center is produced. 

The second story is reserved for the Renaissance and Baroque collections, in addition to Oriental art. In these halls the sunlight streams in not only from the top of the atrium, but also through the slits running parallel to the walls. The top floor, basking in the full splendor of the skylights, will house a rich collection of sculptures, with its windows offering views of the entire campus. 

Diagonal Block L'Illa
Barcelona, Spain 
with Manuel de Solà-Morales 
International competition by invitation, 1986 (First Prize) 
Inaugurated 1993 

The site occupied by the L'Illa today was once a vacant lot between the part of the city which remains true to the Cerdá Plan, and therefore respectful of the concept of continuity which accompanies the idea of closed building, as well as that other city, the fruit of planning in the sixties and seventies characterized by discontinuity and open building. The filling of this empty space, transforming it into a nexus between the above-mentioned sectors of the city, became the premise which gave form to the project and from which the urban strategy of the proposal was developed. Winner of an international competition in 1986, the project was based on the construction of a longitudinal building parallel to the Diagonal with a park behind which a hotel was to have been erected and where a convention center and some schools are now being built. 

It was no easy task to construct a building more than 300 meters long. In order that such an important volume would not be perceived as an undifferentiated mass, both the plan and the profile are broken and segmented, and the building is perforated by passageways in those places responding to a variety of urban circumstances. The tangential views which one frequently has of the building led to the design of a system of setbacks which produce the virtual reduction of its mass. The building profile, on the other hand, addresses the hierarchy of the cross streets, and the greater height on Numancia Street is oriented in such a way that the slender facade celebrates entry into the city. 

At a time when postmodernism appears to have run its course and the neo-technological alternatives produce buildings of dubious image and poor function, the L'Illa embraces the values of an architecture dedicated to city building which are expressed by enhancing the most characteristic elements of the language of modern architecture. This emphasis led to design of the masses with an almost sculptural control, and to the importance given to a spatial vision apparent in the above-mentioned passageways as well as in the gallery, where changes in scale along with a certain taste for discontinuity and diversity predominate. The multiplicity of uses in the building—offices, "aparthotel," commercial center—makes itself felt in the design, and an examination of the floor plans and sections reveals to what extent the architectural solutions respond to the suggestions inherent in the program. A discreet but conscious version of the idea of a building as a simple container, so much in use nowadays, remains throughout the project. 

Our Lady of Los Angeles Cathedral 
Los Angeles, California 
International competition by invitation, 1996 (First Prize) 
Inauguration 2001 

The site for the new cathedral, a 230,000 sq. ft. parcel in the heart of the city tangential to the Hollywood Freeway, imposed several conditions on the design. First, and by no means least important, it caused the project to be understood as an operation on a precinct rather than merely as the construction of a building. This awareness that the essence of the project had to include clear principles of urban design lies at the heart of the strategy. The island nature of the site and its generous dimensions led us to an independent volumetric development in which the cathedral had to be the protagonist of a whole unit that included the cardinal's residence, the parish center, the car park and an esplanade for large congregations of up to 6,000 people in the center of the site. The land available drew us towards an understanding of the church and its annexes in a way not unlike that of the Franciscans when they constructed the independent precincts thay called "missions." The visual focus of the exterior space is the Franciscan cross cut into the alabaster skylight of the cathedral facade. The transverse band of the cross is placed in line with the edge of the roof deck that juts out like a visor. This forward projection of the roof and its perpendicular drop on one side turns the church's main facade into a backdrop for open-air ceremonies -- the same cross presides over both indoor and outdoor altars.

The Audrey Jones Beck Building 
The Museum of Fine Arts
Houston, Texas 
Commissioned, 1992 
Construction 1997- 

The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston was built in 1924, following the design of the architect William Ward Watkin. Much later, Mies van der Rohe built extensions, first in 1958 and again in 1974. The architecture of Mies prevailed, and today the modest and dignified architecture of the first museum has been absorbed in the severe and dark metal framework of the German master.

The Audrey Jones Beck Building will provide additional exhibition spaces for the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts. The new building will be joined to the actual museum by an underground exhibition gallery/passage; however, the new building cannot be considered an extension in the most literal sense of the word. Located on Main Street, which connects the downtown with the Medical Center, the Audrey Jones Beck building is a seperate and autonomous building and should be understood as such. The new building will be built on a rectangular parcel defined by Main Street, Fannin Street, Binz Avenue and Ewing Avenue. In spite of the apparent homogeneity of the street grid, a study of the surrounding neighborhood yields an appreciation for certain aspects of the site. The orientation of the new building was the first design decision. The Audrey Jones Beck Building opens onto Main Street and makes it the dominant orientation, not only because Main Street is a street of crucial importance in the city, but also because placing the principal facade on this street pays homage to and establishes a necessary relationship with the existing museum designed by Mies. 

In Houston, buildings are perceived from the automobile. The front view of a building, experienced by those on foot, is not possible. Therefore, is difficult to apply the same criteria as when considering the building as an object with a well-defined image. Such considerations let the Audrey Jones Beck Building occupy nearly all of the land available, without falling into the temptation of artificial fragmentation. In this way we explored the potential of a compact architecture built within tight confines. Architects always strive to build within the restrictions imposed by the regularity of an area. It is desirable to enclose the largest possible volume in the smallest possible surface area. Compact architecture demonstrates that it is possible to break a regular surface into a whole series of figures that define rooms and corridors, stairs and openings, galleries and light courts, etc., filling the space with admirable continuity and contiguity without submitting to a pre-established "parti." Compact architecture gives rise to saturated, dense floor plans that make use of the interstitial spaces of architectural programs.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston is a clear example of this understanding of architecture. Thus the floor plan of the museum is "broken" into a whole series of rooms and galleries, connected by means of a hidden path, that without being imperious,  guides the visitor's steps. The Museum makes intense use of the natural light that illuminates the rooms and galleries from above. The variety of the galleries is reflected in the fragmented and broken outline of the roof. The roof becomes the most characteristic image of the museum, showing the importance given to the light, the real protagonist of an architecture whose substance is found in the interior space.

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