Ferrovial La ingeniería civil como arte: creatividad e innovación

A greenhouse jungle

Madrid, Spain

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For a brief time, Madrid’s Retiro Park felt like Southeast Asia. The summer was hotter than normal 130 years ago.

Fifty Igorot and Itneg peoples and other inhabitants of the Philippines took over the park. In the center, wrapped in glass, was an orchard of tropical plants brought from the islands of the Pacific ring of fire.

The so-called Philippine Exposition of 1887, which sought to strengthen relations between Spain and a country that would soon cease to be its colony, was also society’s introduction to the Glass Palace, a structure that still characterizes the Retiro Park today. It was built for the exhibition and designed by architect Ricardo Velásquez Bosco. Bosco drew inspiration from the Crystal Palace in London, which was built in the mid-19th century.

A sort of gigantic greenhouse, the building lives up to its name. The structure’s metallic skeleton supports hundreds of glass plates that make up its walls. Simulating part of a basilica, the palace has a taller, wider central body supported by two lower naves along the side. The architectural complex creates a bright, transparent space that is still protected from the cold; it also marks the start of iron architecture in Spain.

The Glass Palace survived for almost 100 years with hardly any retouching, though its appearance had strayed far from the original towards the mid-20th century. Two restorations, one in 1975 and a more detailed one lasting from 1994 to 1998, restored its original splendor. The latter process was carried out by Ferrovial under the direction of José de la Dehesa. It helped strengthen the metallic structure, renovate the facilities, and reintegrate decorative elements that had been lost. Today, the building once again serves as an exhibition space in the heart of the city.

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