It’s 2 AM on a Saturday night in the Spanish capital and traffic flows as if it were a weekday rush hour. The labyrinth of 14th-century cobblestone streets in the Lavapiés neighborhood, Madrid’s next big thing, is buzzing with life. The immaculately dressed bar and restaurant crowds huddle in groups on the sidewalk as they discuss where to go next; African immigrants sell pirated CDs displayed on blankets; dreadlocked squatters circle in a powwow in the plaza; and, lest we forget that this is Europe, a Ferrari races by. As Madrid, still spreading its wings after only 30 years of democracy, struggles to find its place amongst world-class 21st-century cities, resolution to its identity crisis lies somewhere in the chaotic mix of old and new.
Contemporary architecture and design reflect this trend of turning old into new with recent starchitect projects like Herzog + de Meuron’s CaixaForum, which conserves the old facade of an outmoded power plant while completely restructuring the building. Juan de Villanueva’s beloved 18th-century Prado Art Museum got a respectful addition from Rafael Moneo in 2007 (no Gehry whorls or refracting metallic skin in sight). In
a city where up-and-coming designers are bucking what they see as a crotchety, inefficient system of commissioning public works in a tear-it-down-and-build-it-up mentality, the next big thing may simply consist of rethinking what is already here.
It all makes perfect sense to architect and designer Andrés Jaque, a 36-year-old Madrid-based principal of Andrés Jaque Arquitectos, university lecturer, and founder of the playfully heady Office for Political Enhancement. The OPE promotes a kind of democratized, eco-Ikea model of urban living emphasizing utilitarian design, making the most of any and all floor, wall, and ceiling space and the merits of colored plastic. For someone like Jaque, modern ideas effortlessly merge with the old-world mentality, both in the physical state of the urban landscape and the lifestyle that goes along with it.