Corrales and Molezún: Dreamlike Rational Architecture
With José Antonio Corrales and Ramón Vázquez Molezún, a situation quite common in Spanish architecture post-1950 is repeated: the lack of international projection of talented architects, largely due to the absence of theory. Apart from that, an intrinsically mysterious and enigmatic character pervades their work, deeply reinforced by the attitude of these architects towards it. They never stopped to explain it. They were never interested in providing it with a theoretical foundation. All this makes it extraordinarily difficult to understand their architecture, leaving many questions unanswered, open only to the interpretation of those who pause to reflect on them.
Corrales and Molezún have collaborated together on numerous projects sine 1952. They were very different people. José Antonio used to define himself as a “more rigorous person”, while Ramón was closer to the “gaie”, with a lighter, almost romantic touch. Their duo could be incarnated, respectively, as the two lobes of the brain: the left hemisphere, visual, verbal, linear, controlled, dominant, quantitative, etc. in Corrales; while the right, spatial, acoustic, holistic, contemplative, emotional, intuitive … perhaps more accurately represents Molezún. One more couple to the long history of creation: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, …
After the first half of the twentieth century, these architects are perhaps our first figures standing still in time. Inheritance of ’68: Sáenz de Oiza, de la Sota, Moneo, Higueras, … And not only architects: Oteiza, Chillida, Basterrechea, etc. An enormously influential artistic generation. However, it is worth mentioning once again the conjunctural problem of Spain, specifically Madrid; a temporary lethargy with regard to the trends of the rest of the world, as if this distance was to be solved in a very compressed period of time. The transition from the 1950s to the 1960s saw the death of the great masters, with the disappearance of Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. It also coincides, coincidentally, with the completion of their select works, respectively: the Guggenheim [1956-59]; the Tourette [1952-60] and Ronchamp [1950-55]; and the Seagram [1954-58] and the Berlin Gallery . The truth is that, a priori, one cannot imagine a better cultural context for the beginning of Corrales and Molezú’s career.
To begin with, one cannot think of these two architects without thinking of two of their most emblematic works: the Brussels Pavilion of 1958 and the Huarte House of 1964-66. The Brussels Pavilion exploits the possibilities of a modular, open, horizontally extending composition. The Huarte House does the same with the house-patio scheme. Around these two works, there are others that emphasize the importance of the moment for these two architects: the project for the Museum of Contemporary Art (National Prize) by Ramón Molezún; the school buildings in Herrera de Pisuerga; and the Miraflores Residence and the Selecciones Residence, both in Madrid. All were built between 1955 and 1965.
It is curious that, without taking into account the exception of the Bankunión building in Madrid, perhaps their now objectual work, the pair of architects liked to develop projects of a certain size, medium-sized, never too big or, better said, never too tall. A tendency toward horizontal growth focused on projects that require it, such as museums, pavilions or schools; much more open and extensive.
Their work – as I mentioned earlier – is contextualised in a Spain very focused on art; and a Europe where the hegemony of expressionism reigns. But can we classify these architects as followers of this trend? Although it would be like walking on a razor’s edge, I don’t think so. In spite of the fact that at that time numerous works were created that belonged to this movement, such as Scharoun’s Philharmonic, Saarinen’s TWA, Utzon’s Opera House, Ronchamp’s own building, … Corrales and Molezún savor these strong architectural flavors from a distance.
They were much closer to the Anglo-Saxon world, in that apostolic succession that would go from the Tecton Group, the CIAM and the Athens Charter, Team Ten, Brutalism, Stirling, … from the figure-bridge of Cedric Price, from Archigram … to this last group, pure delirium, in which some saw the Rossian sermons and Durand’s outbursts reflected. There was no way out. The good thing about them was that the Pompidou arrived, proving that the delusions were not so great. Subsequently, Piano and Rogers did more than enough to prove it.
Evidently, they are not easy to define or pigeonhole. Perhaps we can approach their work from a critical, demanding point of view. Perhaps they have not let their hair down enough. It is worth pointing out certain shortcomings or cautions: that of a strong tragic feeling; what Oteiza defined as “intimate tragic and creative concentration”. The clarity in the layout of plans and sections, skilful handling of volumetry which is often dramatic and contrasted, awareness and assumption of risk in exploiting new constructive elements, explicit satisfaction in finding the appropriate material, …. They do it so well that it all seems – it only seems – too easy, calm, punctuated only by occasional tremors?
We can bravely classify their architecture as “optimistic”. An architecture that allows them to tackle both the widest variety of programs and the most complete diversity of places, thus forgetting the concept of type and the influence of the environment. It can therefore be said that Corrales and Molezún’s architecture is transparent in its intentions and that in this transparency lies to a large extent, its appeal. Identifying in it the principles that animated it becomes the definitive argument that justifies it.