3 Sep, 2023 @ 13:30
3 mins read

MADRID: Iconic buildings open their doors

EVERYONE knows about Spain’s castles and cathedrals, Arab palaces and forts. What’s more surprising to visitors is the amount of award-winning, avant garde architecture visible in the cities. 

You can experience it close up by staying on one of the new wave of design hotels, and innovative modern design has become a vital ingredient of new restaurants. If you arrive via Bilbao airport, designed by Santiago Calatrava, or T4 at Madrid’s Barajas airport, designed by Richard Rogers, you’ll also get to see sublime architecture from the inside out.

However, many of the most eye-catching buildings are private, meaning we only get to see the facade – except on special occasions.

Open House is a world-wide initiative that gives people the opportunity to nose inside iconic buildings in more than 40 cities.  Madrid is one of them, and during Open House Madrid from September 21-24, the doors will be thrown open to more than 90 iconic buildings and architecture studios, normally closed to the public. 

Not all are super-modern: some of the most striking date back to the 19th century. The organisers highlight three must-sees: Maudes Palace, headquarters of the Department of Transport and Infrastructure (built in 1916 as a hospital for Madrid’s working class); the Spanish Cultural Heritage Institute designed by Fernando Higueras and Antonio Miró; and Larra 14 (the journalism lab), with its knockout modernist facade.


Access to properties is free, but, as last year, more than 50,000 people toured the  properties, it’s necessary to book ahead to get into some venues. Complete information on what, where, when and why is available on the Open House website, along with maps, and recommended self-guided routes. Hundreds of volunteers will be available to provide help and information at the buildings. Madrid Open House 2023

Here are some gems worth a peek.

Castellana 44

Located on the leafy Paseo de la Castellana, the trees reflected in the glass facade seem part of the building itself. The open spaces inside are inventive, making an interesting HQ for the less than interesting-sounding General Insurance Directorate office.

The Carrión building on Gran Via

If you know Madrid, you’ll have spotted this Art Deco gem. Built in the 1930s, it has always stood out for the brightly lit advertising sign bearing the name of a particular soft drink brand high on its rounded walls. Also known as the Capitol, it houses the Capitol hotel and cinema. 

Casa do Brasil

This is a taste of tropical Brazil in the capital. A centre for the study of Brazilian language and culture, and promotion of trade, it was built in 1960 by, of course, a Brazilian architect (Luiz Afonso d’Escragnolle Filho) in collaboration with a local partner. Both of them were in turn influenced by Le Corbusier, and the result is  clean, white lines and unusual facades. Lovely! Avenida de la Memoria, 3

The Cuatro Torres Business Area

You’ll need to take a detour off the normal tourist route to have a look at this tough Star Wars style cluster with, as you’ll quickly note, five tall thin skyscraper towers sticking up into the Madrid skyline. Built in the early 21st century, it really marks the start of a tall tower trend in a city that until that point was strangely devoid of them.

Casa Rubens

The summer houses of Cadaqués in the 1950s were the inspiration for this weekend retreat for a young Madrid couple and their two kids. Located in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, it’s one floor, but double-height with one of those snail-style spiral staircases to a mezzanine studio. The colours are bold. Visit for ideas about design outside the box. Calle de Cesáreo Pontón, 4 

Agency Wanna

Good branding runs through every aspect of a company from product labels to office design and culture. So, agencies that do this sort of thing, always have studios that reflect what they’re all about. Founded and led by women, Wanna’s mission is to break rules, create experiences, and connect people to places emotionally. It’s an approach that has seen the agency garner plenty of national and international awards, mainly for immersive hotel design. 

The Open House Madrid program also includes a visit to a Wanna project, ‘Planeta Piel’, Primor’s huge flagship store on Gran Via. It’s been described as ‘the most disruptive, iconic, and fun perfume store in the world’, and promises visitors a personalised and emotional experience. Go along to find out exactly how they do that.


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Sorrel Downer

Sorrel is a journalist based in Spain who writes for The Guardian, and whose bylines include The Telegraph, The Times, Financial Times, Conde Nast Traveller, Business Life, Business Insider, Reader's Digest, Evening Standard, and the BBC.

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