“You look up and you find the towers, wherever you are. It is something terrible for the expropriated because you see how they are growing at great speed, and yet there is no trace of the services that are supposed to go in other lots. ” The phrase is pronounced by a neighbor in the area of Paseo de la Dirección where the towers are being built Skyline. Right under your nose, and standing between the views of the Madrid mountains and the Rodríguez Sahagún Park, two luxury housing blocks are being built in the so-called cornice of Tetouan, a promontory privileged for its views and its location in front of the park that has conditioned, as we will see, an eventful process of reorganization of the neighborhood for decades. “It seems that the towers are laughing at us,” adds another neighbor.
Looking from there the silhouette of the city, it is perfectly understood that the old humble neighborhood has not yet entered the plans of the design of the Madrid of the 21st century. In the Four Towers, also omnipresent on its horizon, the campus of a business school is rising; In Sinesio Delgado, a private university residence is growing rapidly, and at the end of Capitán Blanco Argibay, the Skyline They must have already completed about twenty of the 25 floors and 100 meters in height that they will have (to which two large lateral wings should be added to both buildings). Business, training and luxury housing linked by the fast lane of the Paseo de la Dirección and the Rodríguez Sahagún Park itself as a green pedestrian street.
The promoter of the towers (one for sale and another for rent) points to them as a pole of economic attraction and regeneration for the neighborhood. What he puts in value in his promotional texts, however, are his views of green Madrid and the city of business:
“Skyline is located in an area with a bright immediate future, it begins its transformation by highlighting a“ cornice walk ”that, facing northwest, looks expectantly at the future development of the Castellana Norte district, the emblematic neighborhood of Puerta de Hierro, the Complutense University, the Dehesa de la Villa and the financial center of the 4 towers ”.
The architect of the towers is a great acquaintance of the neighborhood, Julio Touza. His study participated in the Second Modification of the Plan of the Paseo de la Dirección, a version of the plan prior to the one currently in force that was known, in fact, as Touza Plan.
An omnipresent silhouette above our heads
Strolling through the neighborhood, the gigantic unfinished silhouette of the Skyline it looks out over every roof, in every interstice and intersection. The mass, of course, stands between the mountains of Madrid, which frame the park, and the view, like a basketball player sitting in front of you in the cinema.
The urban anthropologist José Mansilla gives us clues to find academic references on the phenomenon: search for the concept visual contamination. He warns that he can have “a clear class perspective”, as well as the symbolic component of the heights, “seeing the city from above conveys a feeling of power, of control of the plan.”
Mansilla talks about the Ben Wheatley movie High-Rise, a 2011 adaptation of the novel by JG Ballard Skyscraper. In the film, the building serves as a metaphor. The different social classes live there represented: the higher the floor, the richer the neighbor (curiously, before the invention of the elevator this category was quite different).
The truth is that skyscrapers, in addition to socially embedded in their environment, modify it, increasing road traffic or encouraging the demand for nearby hotels, let’s say. But another classic example is the way in which large buildings generate shady areas around them –the rear of Gran Vía, without going any further–, something that is the object of study in contemporary architecture.
A long journey in the desert (or in the solar)
The process of reorganization of the neighborhood has a long and eventful vicissitudes. The Madrid City Council privatized in 2007 (Alberto Ruiz Gallardón’s time) the reform of the area: Dragados (ACS construction company) would take over the urbanization, the unfolding of the road –almost two kilometers and four lanes–, and the expropriations and relocation of affected neighbors. The company would collect its emoluments on land, but the collapse of its price during the crisis of 2008-2009 caused the accounts to stop going out to the real estate giant and the works were suddenly paralyzed, leaving the neighborhood raised and the relocations without completion ( incidentally, what was paid to the relocated neighbors did not come to pay for the relocation houses).
The situation lasted until 2016, when the City of Now Madrid demanded that Dragados complete the second relocation building and finish the road to put an end to their relationship by mutual agreement. Dragados collected with seven plots of 88,250 square meters valued at 126 million, about 50 less than the total price that the work would have had … but, only a year and a half later, ACS sold the two free housing plots on which the buildings are currently being built. towers Skyline, in what was branded in the salmon press as a round business.
From this time, it is the third modification of the Partial Plan for the Interior Reform of the Paseo de la Dirección, in which there was neighborhood participation and which had the spirit of modifying the buildability of the cornice “improving the permeability between the neighborhood and the park.” For this, it was decided to concentrate the building in height, so that the barrier of floors that surrounded the “inner neighborhood” on the cornice was lowered. Blocks planned to the west of the promenade, on the same Rodríguez Sahagún park, were eliminated and the towers at the end of Capitán Blanco Argibay were pardoned (today Skyline) because its “uniqueness allows a less traumatic integration from the landscape than that of the continuous front formed by the blocks.”
It could be said that the modification of the buildable area in this plan attenuated something that, however, could not completely disappear because it was in the spirit of the plan from the beginning: the urban revaluation of the cornice, an elevated enclave with privileged views over the park and natural viewpoint towards the Sierra de Madrid. Even the first relocation block was projected as a great barrier for the buildings that were left behind.
A walk along Calle Sorgo, where there are still some low houses with patios in good condition, mixed with a majority of newer floors, allows us to imagine what a neighborhood that barely exists anymore was like. “The asphalt that was before this one that we stepped on had been fixed by the neighbors themselves, when decades ago no one from the City Council passed through here,” my guide tells me through the neighborhood. For the rest, there are low houses in very bad condition, here and there, between areas not yet urbanized that make it difficult to remember what the neighborhood was like.
Before the clean sheet, and although a deep urban reorganization was necessary, the situation of the village was diverse. There was a slum but also magnificent houses with land. After years wrapped in a context of abandonment, without granting work licenses for repairs, most of them were even in deterioration. Subsequently, the houses of the first relocated were empty, which were occupied or left in a state of abandonment. After many years and various vicissitudes, sometimes with litigation, today only three families remain to be relocated, but the road has been long. “In the original census we were about 300 families with the right to rehousing, in the end there have been far fewer, there are people who have died or gone to live in other places instead of opting for rehousing flats.”
“This low house with land has just been sold recently, they say that for 450,000, while those that were the same and were expropriated on the opposite sidewalk could receive, perhaps, about 160,000”, my companion details to illustrate the capricious nature of some expropriations. There were houses that were left out of the plan and others that were not, adducing technicalities, such as the alignments of the streets, which have not always been maintained throughout the process. The image of real estate developers knocking on the doors of the old houses that remain in the neighborhood has become a constant these days. “All these houses will last as long as their inhabitants live, then, surely the heirs will sell them to build on the site”
The residents feel that, in a way, they have also lost the Rodríguez Sahagún park, which has been segregated from the neighborhood by the fast track and with very steep accesses. “Before you used to go and there were always older people but now it is an excursion for them to get there, there are young people, yes, but there are no older people”, they tell us. The towers are on the same park and the spills that the works have caused on the green areas have been repeatedly denounced (the company claims that it is water that falls down the slope of the land).
Although the City Council’s Works Plan for the next few years foresees the construction of a nursery school on Paseo de la Dirección and a sports center (which is outside the scope, on Calle de Ofelia Nieto), there is still much to be developed and the neighbors They have not yet seen any crane intended to lift public services. “In this neighborhood there is nothing, there is no medical center, to go to the institute you have to go to another neighborhood, for the library to La Ventilla… there was the Gil Díaz school, a small one that served the neighborhood and today is a solar”. Undoubtedly, the feeling of helplessness of the expropriated neighbors goes far beyond the fact that some skyscrapers rise in front of their noses … but their growing silhouette constantly recalls all the reasons they have for discontent.