SPAIN has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than almost any other country in the world. From the white villages to the big cities, architecture is part of the attraction for millions of tourists who visit it every year.
But for Andres Rubio, the country has experienced a “cultural disaster” when it comes to construction.
That’s how bad it was for him, respected the former editor of El País El Viajero The travel section claims that politicians have given little thought to how towns and villages can grow in ways that protect cultural heritage.
In his new book España Fea (Spain is Ugly) he chronicles why it happened.
“Spain is ugly. It’s very difficult to say, but that’s how it is,” he explains.
He is most critical of the once-charming fishing villages on the Costa del Sol, which he says are “chronically overdeveloped”, and calls Benidorm’s newly built Intempo skyscraper, the tallest residential building in Europe, “abhorrent”.
However, Rubio also cites some model examples, such as the Galician masterpiece Santiago de Compostela, which has a reputation for rejecting new construction projects that don’t match its rustic aesthetic.
It’s easy to spot passages that both support and contradict his controversial view. Sometimes a building can do both.
Here, the olive press selects a dozen of the most striking examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly in all of Spain.
What is your opinion? Let us know and send us your own lists to [email protected]
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
Certainly one of the finest examples of contemporary architecture in the world, the Frank Geary-designed museum has put Bilbao on the world travel map. Notable for its use of fragmented, corrugated metal, it has been described as “a signaling moment in the architectural culture of Spain”.
Caixa Forum, Madrid
The striking vertical garden facade in the heart of the capital is very popular due to its size and optical illusion. The building housed the Mediodía Electric Company before being transformed into a cultural space.
Metropol Parasol, Seville
Known as “Las Setas” or “Mushrooms” of Seville, the world’s largest wooden building was designed by Jürgen Mayer in 2011. It’s a giant whorl of wooden latticework, rising to a height of 26 meters above Roman remains in a historic square. Its main purpose is to provide shade as well as a view over Seville’s old town.
La Muralla Roja, Calpe
A geometric marvel, La Muralla Roja was designed by legendary architect Ricardo Bofill in 1968 and features interconnecting communal plazas and bridges. Bofill’s legacy was far-reaching, with global TV hit – Squid Game – featuring an architecture that tipped its hat off to the Spaniard who passed away earlier this year.
Donald Gray Building, Marbella
These are enviable roads to live on. Designed by British architect Donald Gray, Marbella’s leafy suburbs have won many awards. Its lily-white houses are a modern pastiche of Moorish architecture – Islamic architecture that developed in the western Islamic world, with each house being an entirely different construction yet maintaining a consistent aesthetic. But they fit in.
Edificio Montreal, Alicante
This notorious Alicante 1980s building just outside the city center was designed by local architect Alfonso Navarro. It is commonly known among residents as La pyramid.
The Messenger Center, Santander
Named after the late CEO of Santander Bank, it is described as “phallic looking” and as if “emerging from the sea and pushing its way into the city”. It has cost a whopping €80 million so far and has yet to be completed, although construction began over a decade ago.
Parish of Santa Monica, Zaragoza
Architect Agustinos Recoletos created this church with a space-age quality that is arguably as out of place in its setting as it was when it was built in 1973. The futuristic design was chosen to expand the reach of the church and to attract more young people.
Intempo Building, Benidorm
At the end of quite a bit of vitriol from Rubio, the building is seen by some as a symbol of poor planning and bureaucracy, with both architects responsible for the project resigning in 2012 before it was completed.
Ronda Parador, Ronda
Ronda’s Parador Hotel is a true example of how to talk money and may seem harmless to the untrained eye, but upon closer inspection reveals a hideous new build, parallel converted into an attic, and from the original 16th-century building stands out, unworthy of the city’s Roman and Moorish heritage. Sitting in pole position by the city’s famous bridge while views can be improved from the new rooms, the semi-circular balconies on the outside are a shame… and not even balanced.
The Mirador building, Madrid
A Lego-encrusted eyesore or a seminal achievement of postmodernism? The Mirador building was designed by Dutch architecture firm MVRDV in collaboration with Madrid architect Blanca Lleo. The apartment block overlooks a panoramic view of the Sierra de Guadarrama, many locals wish such views were less obstructed.
Algarrobico Hotel, Almeria
This is without a doubt the most disgraceful building ever built on the Spanish coast.
Fortunately, this 411-room carbuncle near Vera in Almeria hasn’t opened up yet, but it has already completely ravaged the once-pristine beach. Built without proper planning permission – and unstopped despite protests from Greenpeace and Ecologists in Action – it dwarfs its surroundings and shows more than anything else how corruption has helped destroy Spain’s last remaining shores.