n´UNDO Plan in Atocha
Location: Around Atocha, Madrid, Spain
Year: January 2013
Framework: Workshop n’UNDO through network call
Atocha: Esoteric Propaganda
Atocha, Madrid’s door by tradition and in perpetual change by madrileños, represents another lost opportunity that unfortunately defines the capital. It has been subjected to transformations that far from adapting it, isolates it and saturates it with impertinence and incongruence.
The stations are spaces generated by plans built over people’s routes, are journeys, illusions, activities, beginnings and endings, comings and goings, transformation and society. They are city, they integrate it and strengthen it by inserting themselves in it as its threshold, its relationship with other worlds. Huge covered markets, new streets and squares, associated with neighbourhoods and the daily life of the quarter. Urban operations of maximum magnitude. Public space, in its broadest sense, cives and urbs.
Stations as history and evolution, associated with the advance of technology and knowledge, transcend the mere function of loading and unloading passengers and goods, to become landmarks, symbols of empires and civilizations. In front of the new cathedrals of neo-modernity -airports, shopping malls…- those non-places of metaphysical solitude, of unregulated territory, and time limbo, designed for transit and unnecessary consumption, the station in the urban core is, must be, a place of reception and home.
However, Atocha, in spite of accomplish its function as an interchange for public and private transport on different scales, it shows an ominous and worsened connection with its immediate surroundings, especially dramatic for those who approach to it on foot, being a gap instead of a link as it should be, and a gibberish for the mortal majority.
The space defined by the limit between the station and the city, where the opportunity to improve the connection resides, has been wasted, and what could have been a solution and a meeting point, gardens and a square, has become an inhospitable and a failed space. The urban design imposes the traffic in front of the space, where the hard pavement allows its privatization for commercial purposes and favors the usage of the car.
Nearby, one can sense what was once a square and meeting place for one of Madrid’s greatest tridents, linking Santa María de la Cabeza, Paseo de las Delicias and the Ronda de Atocha. Today, due to a secondary and surplus treatment, it is a fragmented and denigrated space by the occupation of the automobile, forming an archipelago of underused spaces that omit their responsibility of continuation with the green walk, in spite of safeguarding a not insignificant number of square meters for the pedestrian.
Public transport presents the same confusion, chaos and disorder, not even the car, to which the design of the surroundings is subordinated to, has a functional link with the station.
The existence of multiple barriers (physical and sensorial), some of them from the design itself and others out of the imposed use of private parking in the outdoor spaces, transform the station into a complex continuous traffic, without a quiet place or the possibility of meeting.
The great historical space of the Antonio Palacios’s marquee, adapted with skill by Rafael Moneo in the vestibule, anteroom, rest and square of the station, housed during the past months an esoteric fair; one of many that continually invade the projected tranquillity. Architecture, which is nothing but truth, reason and ethics, could not be more crude and directly insulted and profaned, by this mercenary sale to the highest bidder.
This sale is joined in Atocha by other hucksters, advertising and marketing tycoons, who have ended up turning what should have been a place for generating opportunities, attracting and revitalizing a historical environment and a space of value to citizens, in to a rental support, a disjointed and poorly designed supermarket of fairs and gadgets, of the most banal propaganda and noise. Everything transformed by greed, bad management, lack of culture and the crudest advertising. Anything is bearable. The first function of design is then to be an advertising frame, a propaganda surface, a loudspeaker for the insufferable noise of a rotten system that extols consumption as the only way to happiness. There is no space in Atocha without trampling on the advertisements, the messages and the interests of buying and selling.
It is possible, however, to specify solutions that point in three main directions: the first is to reduce vehicle traffic to connect the station with the surrounding neighbourhoods in a pedestrian-friendly way; the other two, which are related, involve eliminating architectural and sensory barriers, and the enormous propaganda noise that surrounds the entire station. Disconnection, saturation and overlapping, are issues that Architecture must resolve, from actions not of addition or collage, but of reflection and renunciation, of analysis of priorities, of primary and necessary issues, from the service to the citizens.
But it is now marketing that projects. There is a new Pritzker: the privatization initiated by Adif and which continues on our sidewalks to take over and necrotize our cities and thoughts.