The Madrid draped in Manila shawls and dancing to the sounds of a barrel organ tells only part of the story of a city moving into the twentieth century with ambitions of being modern, akin to other major cities in Europe. This process of transformation would see architecture and engineering become two central elements for meeting the target of progress and culture in the form of urban expansion and infrastructures that would flip around the social life in a town of “improvisation and perseverance”.
Although the Castro Plan of 1860 had represented the ordered growth of the city after the destruction of the remains of its ancient Muslim wall, its interventions turned to acquiring outlying areas to build new neighbourhoods. The heart of the city, however, retained an ancient image that stood a long way from modernity and would drive the quest for interior reform in the old town, leading to the removal of streets, housing, churches and convents. At this juncture, the Project to Reform and Extend Calle Preciados and the Junction between Plaza del Callao and Calle de Alcalá, designed by José López Salaberry and Francisco Octavio Palacios, materialised — essentially, it meant opening Madrid’s Gran Vía, a new street that would extend across the old city from east to west. This new road would be built with structures encompassing imposing architecture, intended for hotels, housing and cultural facilities, while other properties would house some of the biggest companies in that era, for instance the Compañía Telefónica Nacional de España
There were also other initiatives that would not come to fruition but would still ratify this thirst for urban development. Once such case was a proposal by José Luis de Oriol, who, in 1921, presented his own inner-city development plan entailing the opening of straight roads traversing the centre and joining some of the city’s most relevant points by means of broad avenues and squares.
An emerging key component related to these new outlines superimposed over the old city and expanding the new was mobility. The city’s growth was substantial and the need for freer movement led to the proliferation of private vehicles manufactured by brands such as Chevrolet, Pontiac and Buick. Moreover, following the example of practices in other foreign cities, in 1919 the company Metropolitano Alfonso XIII started a route connecting Sol to Cuatro Caminos, a radical change in Madrid’s urban transport and a shift in the city’s attentions towards underground rail travel.
Culture and sport would also play their part in architecture and engineering changing the face of the city, adding a greater, and much needed, cutting-edge via major infrastructures like the headquarters of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, designed by Antonio Palacios. There were equally grandiose buildings in the field of sport, for instance the Frontón Recoletos and the new Zarzuela Racecourse, the construction of the latter also leading to the expansion of the city northwards, on land from an old horse farm, with the extension of the Castellana. This major street was configured by Zuazo and Jansen’s plan, which reproduced, on both sides, housing complexes in line with designs put into practice in the Casa de las Flores.