When the Botín Foundation asked MVN Arquitectos to find a location for its Madrid offices and event space, MVN architects Diego Varela de Ugarte and Emilio Medina García came across a singular structure: a 1920s industrial building that is the last of its kind in the posh, dense district of Salamanca, where newer neighbors are primarily apartment blocks with less character.
The foundation, which focuses on cultural development and social change, wanted all local staff that were previously spread throughout multiple Madrid offices to be centralized in one location and have a flexible event space to aid in the office’s mission of finding and developing creative, cultural talent. The foundation desired a unique interior, compared to what Varela de Ugarte describes as the typically stuffy and formal foundation office. “Botín wanted it to appear open and to reflect what the foundation really does, which is to invite society into a lively space that is always full of events and people,” Varela de Ugarte says.
However, the warehouse’s entrance, hidden down a dark, narrow alleyway, was challenging to find. And the building’s previous tenant, the design store Vinçon, had shrouded every window and painted interior brickwork black, concealing the structure’s beauty. The architects knew that they could exemplify their client’s mission by teasing out the innate gifts beneath this building’s veil.
A paired-down aesthetic proves more inviting
Once the team began stripping away paint and letting in light, the soul of the space—originally a silversmith’s workshop—began to emerge. “We saw the building had a lot of personality and has had a lot of interventions during its life,” Varela de Ugarte says. “We wanted to show that.” The design team, which included interior designer Juan Luis Líbano, maintained the building’s industrial character by revealing its original brickwork. The HVAC, lighting, and mechanical equipment are also exposed.
Straightforward materials echo the building’s simple typology. Steel painted black, glass, and oak define the interior throughout the ground floor public space and first floor offices. Light oak flooring and red oak longitudinal wall and ceiling slats differentiate the surfaces. Polycarbonate panels let in natural light, afforded by the building’s centerpiece: a two-story atrium and two skylights in the roof.
A living backdrop for public events
The skylight above the office space is outfitted with thermal glass to reduce heat, but the skylight above the atrium must allow in ultraviolet light to nourish the trees planted below. The architects removed a steel truss to make room for the large wood “lantern” atop the atrium that directs sunlight downward toward the trees and away from the office space. The idea to plant trees grew from the need for something vertical in that space to direct the eye upward. At first, Varela de Ugarte considered a low-hanging light, but he later settled on the tall, straight trees. “The living creatures give you the sensation of being outside in a park,” he says. “It is the space people use most—many of the events are under the trees.” Plant-like Vegetal chairs by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec are the perfect complement.
The ground floor space is uniquely flexible with an open plan and two easily moveable partitions—one composed of transparent glass and the other of opaque timber. The staff moves them nearly every day for events, just as Botín Foundation envisioned. “The design reflects the foundation’s commitment to transforming, creating, and doing things differently,” says Iñigo Sáenz de Miera Cárdenas, the foundation’s general director.
And as for that forboding alleyway, it was redesigned to guide visitors to the entrance while telegraphing the warm, pared down design language to be found inside. One wall is planted with vegetation and the other is outfitted with a series of staggered and top-lit slatted wood seats. “The scale of the cladding reduces the scale of the buildings on both sides,” Varela de Ugarte says. “It gives you the sensation of being embraced.”
- Architect: MVN Arquitectos
- Designer: Juan Luis Líbano
- Client: Botín Foundation
- Where: Madrid, Spain
- What: 16,600 total square feet on two floors and a basement
- Cost/sf: $140
Key Design Highlights
- The openness of the floorplan reflects Botín’s open, welcoming mission related to the arts, education and culture.
- The pared-down material palette allows the 1920s warehouse structure to shine through.
- A two-story atrium capped with skylights connects the public ground floor with second floor office space.
- Trees planted in the atrium create a park-like environment for hosting public events.