With a rich and diverse architectural past, Spain stands out as a reference in contemporary architecture and urbanism.
The inception of architecture in Spain can be traced back to the arrival of the Romans in the Iberian Peninsula. Numerous remarkable monuments from that era still endure, such as the aqueduct in Segovia, the Roman city of Baelo Claudia in Andalusia, and the Roman theaters in Merida. Post-Roman Empire, the establishment of the Umayyad Caliphate between 711 and 720 brought forth significant architectural changes over the next eight centuries. Notably, Spain’s Arabic-inspired buildings, such as the Alhambra in Granada and the Mezquita-Catedral in Cordoba, bear testament to the rich legacy left by the Moors.
The five-century Reconquest era, concluding in 1492, marked Spain’s transition through the Renaissance, vibrant Baroque, and Juan de Villanueva’s neoclassicism. In the 20th century, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, a renowned Catalan modernist architect, contributed to Spain’s most celebrated architectural marvels like the Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, Casa Batló, and Casa Calvet in Barcelona.
We’ve selected a few noteworthy architecture firms that have made their mark in today’s modern building scene in Spain and worldwide.
From Obliterated to Thriving Neighborhoods and Social Inclusion with OAB
Barcelona continues to embrace its avant-garde art and architectural heritage, receiving acclaim from architects for its innovative urban planning. At the intersection of Avenue Diagonal and Passeig de Gràcia, Office of Architecture in Barcelona (OAB) recently completed an urban triumph in the city’s expansion. Here, within the environs referred to as Cinc d’Oros (“the Five of Diamonds”), the firm executed its Mandarin Oriental Residences project between 2018 and 2022, involving the comprehensive renovation of a monumental structure formerly owned by Deutsche Bank.
The architects met 21st-century demands and adhered to current planning regulations by dividing the building into two independent structures, creating a passageway. The front, pentagonal section is now the new headquarters of Casa SEAT (an event venue), while the second section is an entrance atrium to the new lobby of a residential building. This now thriving neighborhood was previously obliterated by Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1936-1975), which demolished a famous local sculpture symbolizing the Spanish Republic.
Additionally, the firm’s work on the expansion of Fundació Catalana de l’Esplai, located in the troubled district of San Cosme, Baix Llobregat (a city in the Barcelona region), shows the architects’ influence on local urbanism. This NGO is dedicated to the social inclusion of vulnerable families, as well as environmental conservation. The first phase of the project was completed in 2023 and encompassed administrative headquarters, a hostel, a sports hall, and a few training spaces. The ongoing, second phase will extend the hostel and build more sports halls, multi-use rooms, and a “Museum of Tomorrow”. Part of this second phase, a new classroom and a space for meetings and debates designed in the shape of an elliptical agora have already been built.
This city, home to half of our preferred Spanish architecture firms, maintains a vanguardist tradition in art and architecture, earning praise for its urban planning. Since founding the firm in 2005, the father-son(s) OAB team continues to earn our praise.
mateoarquitectura: Marrying Ancient Landmarks with New Architecture and Revealing an Atmosphere
Barcelona-based mateoarquitectura has a way of intertwining tangible realities and conceptual realms, a philosophy that can be similar to marrying age-old landmarks with modern architecture. In its work on the Toni Catany International Photography Center in the old town of Llucmajor (Mallorca), where the architectural landscape combines ancient landmarks and old buildings alongside new houses, the photography center occupies part of the house where the celebrated photographer Tiny Catany was born. The architects retained the classic typology of houses in the area—closed to the outside, open onto courtyards—and took inspiration from the place, history, remains, and scale of the house to form the base of the project. Although the center was completed in 2021, it was nominated for the 2023 EUMies Award, a prize whose objective is to promote architecture’s significance in technological, constructional, social, economic, cultural, and aesthetic achievements.
In the same year as the center was nominated for this prestigious award, the firm completed work on the new 260m² office for Fundación Banc Sabadell in Barcelona, a city known for its pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and large windows. Indeed, the office features large windows that offer views of a canopy of a neighboring tree. The firm focused on the relationship between various materials such as wood and glass as well as different colors.
IDOM and the Importance of the Basque Country
In the Basque city of Bilbao, the Bilbao effect has trickled down the architectural line of modern buildings since the completion of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997. While it hints to the NYC original, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and completed forty years earlier; the curved metal, rather peculiar exterior of this iconic architectural landmark impacted the city through significant urban transformation, revitalization, and economic growth.
Although the Basque-based firm IDOM’s Beronia Winery isn’t an iconic landmark, removing the “Bilbao effect” tagline from its list of attributes, it has a similar roundedness to it. Yet, instead of curved metal, we see curved glass. With curved, modern lines, the almost futuristic construction integrates perfectly with the landscape, as if connecting the mountains behind it and the valley where the grapes are cultivated.
Completed in 2021 in the region of Rioja Alta, IDOM’s Beronia Winery exemplifies how architecture can influence economic activity while retaining historical, geographical, geological, topographic, and symbolic dimensions; reasons for which the winery is being considered for different awards.
Spanish Interior Design with gon
In the early 20th century, Spanish interior design was strongly influenced by aesthetic movements such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Bauhaus, and Modernism. In an apartment renovated by gon, an architecture and design office led by Gonzalo Pardo, the first two movements are glaring. The architects completed the project, known as M.R. House, in 2022 after five years of work. On the third floor of a 1900s building in central Madrid, the 175 sqm apartment had, in the architects’ words, a striking “decadent bourgeois atmosphere” and “a certain magical flair” due to features like marble and slate checkerboard floors, papered walls and a large number of floor-to-ceiling doors of different formats and transparencies.
To retain certain elements, including 22 existing doors and 955 original slate and marble tiles, the project involved meticulous, almost surgical work of making an inventory before relocating pieces to the new floor. Madrid’s belle époque days, thus, met Spanish contemporary interior design which is still marked by features such as tiled floors, wooden beams, ornate details, and the use of vibrant colors; all present in M.R. House.
Speaking of vibrant colors, gon’s casa gialla project, completed in 2023, has as its main characteristic the use of a strong, vibrant tone of mustard yellow in many of its walls and also in some decoration objects. Along with the bold color choice, this wideness within a small area makes the apartment a playful and relaxing urban refuge.