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  1. 30 years of the KIO Towers

30 years of the KIO Towers

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KIOtowers 30 years

When John Burgee was asked in 1988 what his objective was when trying to build two tall towers in Plaza de Castilla, his answer was straight:

We want to make this symbolic structure come to mind when talking about Madrid”

John Burgee

Today, 30 years later, we can say that the wish of this architect and his partner, Philip Johnson, has been fulfilled. Not only have they managed to make the Kio Towers become the main representative structures of Spain’s capital city, but they have managed to include these buildings in the list of the most differential buildings in the world, since they were the first skyscrapers to be built with a 15-degree angle.

KIO Towers
Capital Gate

The ‘Puerta de Europa’ project

which is actually the name of these towers, came to provide Plaza de Castilla with its own identity, something that had already been contemplated by the architects and city planners Secundino Zuazo and Hermann Hansen in their urban plans for the capital that dated back to the 1930s and 40s.

These reflected the possibility of building two large skyscrapers on Paseo de la Castellana, inspired by Le Corbusier’s 1920s idea for the Porte Maillot in Paris. Their intention was that these buildings would simulate a monumental entrance to the city from the north. Which happens to be exactly the same idea as sought by Johnson and Burgee.

Le Corbusier boceto para proyecto de Porte Maillot de París

Por Therefore, based on a sketch by Aleksandr Rodchenko, the American architects designed two sloping twin towers that, rising from Plaza de Castilla, would become the symbol of Madrid for the 20th century.

A Little history

We traveled to Spain from

Chamartín, album de fotos por Carlos Rodríguez Zapata y Enrique F. Rojo Escobar

To get to know this project, we must travel back in time to the Spain of 1957. It was the year in which the City Urban Planning Department of the Ministry of Housing expropriated almost 300,000 square metres of land located at the end of Paseo de la Castellana from the company Urbanizadora del Norte (Urbanor).

These plots were exchanged for several plots of around 24,000 square meters located at the north end of Plaza de Castilla. Although the surface area of these plots was far from the 300,000 square meters that had been expropriated, their advantage was that they had a development potential in excess of 486,000 cubic meters.

Fondo Portillo / Archivo Regional Comunidad de Madrid - Chamartín, album de fotos por Carlos Rodríguez Zapata y Enrique F. Rojo Escobar

June 1957

Urbanor signed the swap of the plots with the General Commission for Urban Planning of Madrid and its surrounding areas. It was then that the company realised that it had a vast amount of developable cubic meters spread out over various small plots.

1957 - 1987

Over the next few years, up to eight different projects were proposed to overcome this problem, including the construction of two 47-storey skyscrapers or a building that occupied the entire plot, although none came to fruition.

November 1987

Urbanor sold the land to the Kuwait Investment Office Group (KIO), which commissioned Philip Johnson and John Burgee to create a project that would shape this area of Madrid.

The Architecs

In the late 1980s, Philip Johnson and John Burgee were two famous architects known for having designed some of the most emblematic buildings in the United States, such as the 50-storey IBM headquarters in Atlanta, or the AT&T headquarters in New York, 37 floors.

Philip Johnson y John Burgee edificios
Philip Johnson

Johnson, who in 1979 had won the first Pritzker prize in history, confessed that he would like to prohibit the use of right angles in construction and considered that architects had to try to make society better itself through the shapes of its buildings.

As an admirer of Antonio Gaudí and his lines, he insisted on the need to provide buildings with a sense of movement.

His partner, John Burgee, was also committed to breaking away from traditional verticality, which is why they ended up creating a design made up of sloping towers that did not necessarily have to be skyscrapers.

After seeing the other entrances to Madrid, such as that of Toledo or Alcalá, we want ours to become the most representative one of the European Capital of Culture”,

said Burgee in 1988, according to ABC newspaper.

  • Puerta de Toledo, Madrid
  • Puerta de Alcalá, Madrid
  • Puerta de Europa, Madrid
  1. Puerta de Toledo
  2. Puerta de Alcalá
  3. Puerta de Europa

First Towers

The KIO architects’ project for the plots in Plaza de Castilla was announced in June 1988.
The draft consisted of the construction of two twin towers with a height of about 115 meters made up of three basement floors, a ground floor, a technical mezzanine floor and twenty-four storeys of offices. The facilities and roof levels would be topped by a heliport.

The inclination of the building’s façade made each of the floors of offices different, since their distribution moved with respect to the central core of elevators. These were also affected by the architectural lines of the building, making them a mystery to people who have never entered the towers. Many wonder if the rise and fall of these machines is carried out diagonally.

The truth is that the structure of the building forced the architects to design a system of eight elevators: four that gave access to the floors one to 13 and a further four that provided access from floors 13 to 24. The inclination of the rear façade means that the first set of lifts cannot climb further than the 13th floor due to colliding with the vertical lines of the building.

Detalle plano constructivo TOrres KIO
Torres KIO Bankia Madrid

Originally, the façade was to be made of glass and pink granite from Porriño, a material that John Burgee fell in love with when he visited Spain, but due to constructive reasons related to excess weight, the materials chosen were a combination of glass, aluminium and steel.

In order to enable to clean the exterior structure, a custom system was designed that allowed a gondola to slide along the façade attached to a 35-metre-long metal bar. This bar would be fixed to guides that would travel the corners of the façades, forcing it to follow the inclination of the plane.

Over the years, the tower on the left, seen from the south, would become Bankia's operational headquarters.

What other architects said about the project

The groundbreaking nature of this project divided the opinions of the architects of the day. There were those who, like Manuel Marrero, thought that the strength of the idea of the towers was “emblematic enough” to become another symbol of the capital, or Juan Carlos Piapón, who acknowledged that it was a project which everyone wanted to have on their working board.

However, there were many other architects who did not trust that this design would become part of the collective imagination. In fact, Fernando Chueca-Goitia defined the project as an “inconceivable architectural aberration”, Miguel Fisac considered it “an aesthetic nonsense symbol of stupidity” and Luis Rey, dean of the Madrid architects in the late 80s, was convinced that the towers would not become the emblem that Madrid needed for 1992.

THE WORKS

The works began in May 1990, once the Municipal Planning Department of Madrid had granted the building permit on 23 February of that year. The forecast was that the remodelling of Plaza de Castilla, including the construction of the towers, would last for 18 months, a time frame that was obviously not met.

John Burgee had already said that this was

"a true feat of engineering".

THE PROJECT IN
Figure KIO Towers

  • Concrete 127,500 m3
  • Steel reinforcements 8,900 t
  • Steel structures 22,000 m2
  • Glass area 8,000 t
  • Façade area 33,000 m2
  • Length of wiring 6,200 m

Change to the Madrid Skyline

Although they are not the tallest buildings in Madrid, their aesthetics have made the KIO towers one of the representative elements of the capital, together with Torre España and Torre Picasso.

Madrid skyline

Economic context

Spanish economic context

The KIO Towers in popular culture

When these two buildings began to be erected in the 90s, Madonna was a world icon and Hombres G, Gabinete Caligari, Luz Casal y Miguel Bosé put soundtrack to our days. 'The Crimson Manuscript' won the Planeta award, private television began its journey and Spain was preparing to organize two major events in 1992: the Olympic Games in Barcelona and the Expo in Seville.

In these 30 years, Puerta de Europa has been immortalized in cinema, painting and art in general.


References

  • 'Las Torres Puerta de Europa, Madrid-España'. (link)
  • 'Philip Johnson, el primer premio Pritzker de Arquitectura – 1979' (link)
  • 'Las torres KIO serán de granito y cristal', El País, 8 june 1988 (link)
  • 'Aún no hay proyecto definitivo sobre la Plaza de Castilla', ABC, 19 january 1988
  • 'Plaza de Castilla: las torres quieren ser Puerta de Europa', ABC, 9 june 1988
  • 'Presentado el boceto de las torres Puerta de Europa, ABC', 19 june 1988
  • 'Polémica arquitectónica en torno al proyecto de las torres Puerta de Europa', ABC, 10 july 1988
  • 'Otorgada la licencia para construir las torres de la Plaza de Castilla', ABC, 16 march 1990
  • 'Freno arqueológico y provisional a la construcción de las torres de KIO', ABC 18 april 1990
  • 'Ayer comenzaron 14 meses de obras para construir el túnel de Plaza de Castilla', ABC, 17 may 1990
  • 'Las dos torres inclinadas de KIO ya tienen donde apoyarse', ABC, 19 march 1991
  • 'Televisa, BCH, Caja de Madrid y ATT, entre los primeros inquilinos de las torres inclinadas de Puerta de Europa', ABC, 16 september 1996
  • 'Chamartín, álbum de fotos'. Carlos Rodríguez Zapata y Enrique F. Rojo Escobar. Editorial Temporae.
  • Regional Archive of the Comunidad de Madrid.

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