The Madrid Rio project has transformed a previously underutilised area of the Spanish capital into a popular and tranquil park used by all, citizens and visitors alike. This immense project has been considerably acclaimed since it was completed in 2011.
Most recently, the project was nominated for the WAN Architecture Award in the ‘Landscape’ category. The team behind Madrid Rio, led by Ginés Garrido, was made up of four architecture offices: Burgos & Garrido, Porras La Casta, Rubio & Álvarez-Sala and West 8. It was an extremely complex intervention that also involved a dozen specialist engineers and consultants.
The origins of the project can be traced back to 2003 when Madrid Council decided to build a tunnel to cover 10 km of the main ring road [M30] of the city, which ran along both banks of the Manzanares River. Prior to the construction of the tunnels, the road had made the river isolated, inaccessible and invisible to the public. The construction of the tunnels meant that an enormous space appeared at the heart of Madrid. To help decide the future of the space, an international competition was launched in 2005 and the Madrid Rio proposal, made by the team previously mentioned, was selected as the winning entry.
The project included the reorganisation of the 10 km of the River Manzanares that pass through the city, the design of 370 acres of parks, 12 bridges and 15 acres of public and sports facilities, interpretation and art centres, an urban beach, children’s areas and cafés, as well as the restoration of the hydraulic architectural heritage. In addition, a master plan was drafted for an area of 2,173 acres which will give a prominent role to public space in the districts closest to the river.
The space left vacant after burying the motorway provided the design team with an unprecedented opportunity to relocate the city of Madrid within its surroundings. The project establishes a physical and conceptual continuity, which did not previously exist, between the city centre and the valuable countryside that surrounds it and, consequently, the Manzanares River has been transformed and now connects the city with its geography.
The tunnels became a huge underground construction on top of which vegetation was used as the main material to form a dense and ecologically rich green structure. Thus, a unique urban and living landscape was created on top of an inert underground substrate. Over half of the project’s surface area lays on top of the tunnels and the complicated technical facilities associated with these type of large urban infrastructures.
Madrid Rio is one of the most important projects executed in Madrid over the last few decades and probably one of the most ambitious projects carried out in Europe in recent times. This is perhaps the first project that follows a new approach of integrating large infrastructures and the built fabric of cities with the natural environment that surrounds them, producing a place in which the landscape, the city, the architecture and the urban infrastructures combine to create greater environmental biodiversity and a city that is greener and more habitable and sustainable.
The project was highly complex and, in order to solve the issues that appeared before and during the construction stage, it was vital to use solutions that almost reached the limit of what is technically possible.
As Ginés Garrido remarked:
“We understood that there were two key things to be included in this project. Firstly, it was essential to plant as many trees as possible, which are a blessing in a city with very hot climate like Madrid. Secondly, it was crucial to establish as much continuity as possible between the fantastic landscapes we have in the north and the south of the city.
“Many people have travelled to Madrid to visit the project and every week we receive someone who wants to walk the project. Transforming a highway with a dense flow of traffic into a public space is a very good example that many other cities are using for bigger and smaller projects.
“The project was extremely successful, not only in terms of architecture but also for the citizens. Every day, every hour, you can find people running, walking and playing football. I think it’s a good example for other people to follow.”
Madrid Río is a project by Burgos & Garrido; Porras La Casta; Rubio & Álvarez-Sala; and West 8
Team Director: Ginés Garrido
Arganzuela Bridge: Dominique Perrault Architecture