Maravillas Gymnasium / Alejandro de la Sota

Exterior View of the Maravillas School Gymnasium

In 1962, the Spanish architect Alejandro de la Sota completed the first steel-framed building in Madrid: the Maravillas School Gymnasium. De la Sota was a promoter of the industrialization of construction and his structures combined geometric rigor with constructive sincerity and structural boldness of form that still surprises today.

Maravillas School Gymnasium Technical Information

The substantial height difference between the playground on the calle Guadalquivir and the one on calle Costa was taken into account. Skylights were thus installed to shed natural, uniform daytime lighting on the whole area. While possibly more expensive, the need for this solution was obvious given the amount of productive surface area generated in such a small space.

– Alejandro de la Sota, Madrid 1960

Maravillas Gymnasium Photographs

© Fundación Alejandro de la Sota

© Fundación Alejandro de la Sota

© Fundación Alejandro de la Sota

© Fundación Alejandro de la Sota

© Jörn Schiemann

© Fundación Alejandro de la Sota

© Fundación Alejandro de la Sota

© Fundación Alejandro de la Sota

Text by the Architect

The challenge of undertaking a complex program including a gym and classrooms on a small lot boxed between a retaining wall and Joaquin Costa Street defines this project for the enlargement of the school. Alejandro de la Sota tackled it like an engineering problem that needed to be solved through logical operations, upholding “the raison d’etre” of things.

There was plenty of work on the creative process and the slow gestation that led to the legendary sketch of the final section. With extraordinary skill, the graphic gesture of this transversal diagram synthesizes the spatial and structural concepts.

It was speculated that the idea came from inverting the trusses of the TABSA aeronautic workshops (1957-1958). As a happy result of formal heuristics, the upper chord member in the bridge beams covering the gymnasium prolongs the play court space. At the same time, the lower strut defines the amphitheater arrangement of desks in its obverse and forms a sort of inverted vault in its reverse.

Once (the design was) accepted, we designed the girders-bridging beams with 20 meter spans as the most appropriate solution assuming that, as in this case, the utilisation of the resulting spaces would be maximised. The large gymnasium volume has a polygonal roof to generate the large volumes of the three central meetings rooms in the building. The gymnasium can be viewed from various points on all of these floors thanks to the design of the voids, windows and the balconies cantilevering over it, which have to bestow a sense of movement to this wall.

– Alejandro de la Sota, Madrid 1960

After crossing a minimal setback in the facade, one goes through a glazed gallery flanking the gymnasium. This hallway accommodates the reception services and the stairs leading down to the dressing rooms and up to the first and second levels, with landings forking out toward the meeting rooms and the grandstand.

Besides creating a visual connection between the lightweight roof and the retaining wall, the grandstand acts as a prop whose struts counteract the push of the ground. A top-floor corridor provides access to three classrooms that hang from the floor slab of the courtyard. Framing the classrooms, the ‘gaunt’ bridge beams span twenty meters on posts rising to a maximum of eight meters, while transversal belts and metal tie-beams separated by Virotherm panels are inserted in the six-meter intervals.

Some detractors criticized the facade because of its industrial look and lack of urban emphasis. Still, this canvas of brick courses, metal grates, and glass sheets subtly exposes the interior activities as a masterful composition. Adapted to the terracing of an imaginary wall that would follow the slope of the ground, a rough plinth of brick strips ironically evokes the classical podium resting on the ventilation grilles. In the upper band, the skylights of the gymnasium and the lookouts of the classrooms advance and retreat over the insistent rhythm marked by the structural frame

About the Construction System

The choice of concrete for the structure of the basement plane and steel for the rest of the construction is clearly understandable. “Viroterm” slabs were deemed to be the ideal material for all the gymnasium floor slabs. Skylights are inserted in these slabs, composed of translucent concrete paving to insulate the skylights that will illuminate the spaces below by means of panes of horizontal and sloping glass to absorb the noise. The walls along the street are in “Presec” concrete blocks resting on laminated steel L shapes welded to the rigid frame columns.

– Alejandro de la Sota, Madrid 1960

Maravillas Gymnasium Plans

© Fundación Alejandro de la Sota

© Fundación Alejandro de la Sota

© Fundación Alejandro de la Sota

Maravillas Gymnasium Gallery
About Alejandro de la Sota

Alejandro de la Sota (Pontevedra, 1913; Madrid 1996) is one of the greatest masters of the Spanish Architecture of the 20th Century. He was a professor at the School of Architecture of Madrid (ETSAM),  serving its trail as a reference for several generations of Spanish architects.

During the thirties, he moved from his home town Pontevedra to Madrid, where he started his studies in the Faculty of Mathematics, a necessary condition to enter the School of Architecture. Once he got his degree in Architecture in 1941, he spent the first years of his professional life working for the National Institute of Colonization; a stage that ended up with the construction of the village of Esquivel (Sevilla, 1952-1963) and Arvesú House(Madrid, 1953-1955, demolished).

Since then, he has participated in different competitions, following the same idea as he did in his previous work, the Civil Government of Tarragona (1957-1964). This building has been considered by many people his first masterpiece. During this prolific period, he did several modern industrial architecture projects, such as the Clesa Dairy Plant (Madrid, 1958-1961) and the CENIM premises in the University Campus (Madrid, 1963-1965). He also built his most recognized and admired work, the Gymnasium of Maravillas School (Madrid, 1960-1962), which the British critic William Curtis considered the most significant work of Contemporary Spanish Architecture.

Cite this article: "Maravillas School Gymnasium / Alejandro de la Sota" in ArchEyes, June 13, 2022, https://archeyes.com/maravillas-gymnasium-alejandro-de-la-sota/.