Madrid: Architecture and Design CHRISTINE PARK, james Kim, Olivia Fuertes, Josh Boutin & Jie-Ling NGO


“El mayor enemigo de la felicidad no es el dolor, es el miedo.” - José Ovejero

As we walked through the streets and alleys of Madrid, we noticed that the atmosphere of the various neighborhoods changed dramatically, from Chueca to Lavapiés. It appeared that the architecture and the design of the various neighborhoods effectively mapped out the inner thoughts of the neighborhoods: their dreams, hopes, aspirations, history, future plans, but most importantly, the emotions that filled the neighborhood. The most notable emotion that we noticed, however, was a sense of fear. It permeated the air in particular areas of the city like a miasma through how the streets were designed and how the buildings stood. For example, certain areas of Madrid were claustrophobic in design and structure, which made the fear almost palpable.

What was this fear? How did this fear come about? Is there a solution to stop this fear? We wanted to find out the answer to all these questions that drifted into our minds. However, in order to do this, we first had to look and understand the city.

James Kim


Madrid as a political center of Spain was born out of conflict. Beginning with the Moors staging themselves in what is now Madrid as a fortress to defend themselves against the Christians, slowly, the tables turned to a Christian dominated community. What once was a settlement of wealthy Arabs and working class Christians transformed to the opposite. As the city was built, Arab craftsmanship became more apparent in the cityscape with architectural techniques and shapes. After the religious changes and little question to the authority of the Vatican in Spain, Madrid then faced a battle between Kings. Again, Madrid was in a state of stagnation. There was confusion and disagreement over what city should be capital, and there were Kings who were unsuccessful in establishing a capital. With the uncertainty and undesirable location of Madrid, many citizens built their wealth so that it was portable. Homes were ornately decorated, and architecture was a hindsight. Take Plaza Mayor for example. What appears to be a beautiful and extravagant building with an enormous courtyard turns out to be a simple façade. The walls are only several feet wide or are the back of other buildings facing outward.

When Philip II of Spain moved the court to Madrid, the absolute center of the Iberian Peninsula, the city finally began its drastic cultural shift. Once the capital was defined and after a short stint from 1601 to 1606, Madrid underwent another magnificent transformation. King Philip IV built La Puerta de Alcala along with several other grandiose gates to highlight the roads leading to Madrid from other major cities like Barcelona or Lisbon. No more were the buildings plain and cheap, but there were monuments and statues built to last. However, this cultural boom did not take Madrid far. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that Madrid caught up with the rest of the world. Due to its difficult accessibility, Madrid failed to establish a large trade economy. It was difficult to obtain resources that other cities with coastal ports could, and during the industrial revolution, that proved to be a barrier to further growth. With the rise of technology, Madrid began showing increasing global influence. From art-deco buildings along Gran Via to the rising skyscrapers from the 1960s, Madrid experienced another explosion of culture and development, and today we watch neighborhoods such as Lavapiés continue to change with the times.

Olivia Fuertes


Madrid has integrated historical monuments with urban developments

City view of Madrid

A relatively young city as Madrid only began to expand and grow in global terms in recent decades, Madrid is witnessing continued development and growth. Now that the UK is no longer in the EU, Madrid is the 2nd largest city in the EU based on population size. Moreover, never a focus back in the day to form and build Madrid, there was no development and organization plan for the city, and Madrid was built inside out with no spaces planned for monumental buildings.

Essentially chosen for its prime and ideal location being between Lisbon and Barcelona, Madrid took a while to develop and grow due to the slow inflow of people into the city as it was far away from the sea and in the middle of the country. Therefore, development only started much later, even though it became the capital city of Spain in 1561 when Philip II moved the court to Madrid. This meant that Madrid only ended up with several historical and monumental buildings, especially since many buildings and decorations were only temporary and movable.

Having expanded so quickly and with no organizational and structural plan, Madrid perfectly integrated its urban buildings around its historical monuments. Considering that there was a lack of form and layout idea for this city, Madrid did a wonderful job at constructing a well organized city structure. Residents and visitors can both expect a “walk back in the day” feel subtly mixed in with a bustling cosmopolitan vibe. It is without a doubt that Madrid provides everyone with a cultural experience not only with food and language, but also with its beautiful architecture and design. This picture above shows the 21st century integration of historical monuments with new urban developments.

Madrid is in a constant stage of change, renovation, and development as a young city

From left to right: Royal Palace of Madrid, Lavapiés and Salamanca

Royal Palace of Madrid

Ordered by King Philip the V in 1735, the Royal Palace of Madrid initiated the beginning of development for Madrid on a global scale. Built with stone and limestone, the Royal Palace illustrates the historical architecture and component contributing to Madrid’s beautiful landscape


The up and coming neighbourhood. When translated into English, Lavapiés is known as “wash feet” - possibly in the fountain that used to be in Plaza de Lavapiés. Made out of a large immigrant population, with majority muslim and from other parts of Spain, has contributed to Lavapiés’ up and coming and diverse feel. Full of culture with street art along many narrow streets, Lavapiés is becoming increasingly popular among tourists, which has resulted in big real estate companies’ growing interest in developing in this area. From our walk around the neighbourhood, we noticed varying differences as we progress further into the neighbourhood. More and more buildings along the streets have been rebuilt or are beginning to be renovated. This has led to an increase in real estate prices for Lavapiés. By reconstructing and developing this area, real estate firms are hoping to reap the benefits of increased tourism and traction from outsiders - foreigners, visitors or locals moving into this area. From the picture above, we can deduce that Lavapiés is facing change as it’s middle building is taller than the surrounding buildings. We can also see restaurants laid out at the front of this building, possibly contributing to Lavapiés’ growing developments.


Risen and known as the gay neighbourhood, Chueca was once in Lavapies’ shoes, and has now expanded and grown into an area where many people live, work and hang out. This neighbourhood is filled with a variety of buildings varying in shapes and sizes (height). We noticed that there are many pubs and restaurants around Roommate Oscar, which have many locals and several tourists in them. This shows that Chueca has grown into more than just a touristy area. It has become a place where the locals want to move into and hang out.


A high end and well to do neighbourhood, Salamanca is by far the most expensive area that we visited. With many high risers and fancy structures built with evidently better material - stone opposed to brick - we can see that Salamanca has already developed into an expensive neighbourhood. We noticed that there are many expensive retail stores in this area, and even restaurants and cafes have a pricer price tag for their dishes. The higher prices for food are probably the result of the expensive rental costs for this area, which shows that Salamanca is like the 5th Ave of New York City.

Through the progression from the Royal Palace to Lavapiés to Salamanca, we can see the evident changes and progression that Madrid is facing. Continuing to receive developments and renovations, the city is constantly in a state of change and adaptation.

However, this change is not accepted completely as there is resistance to new developments as well

Street art in the streets of Lavapiés

Stop Racism

Although companies wish to built in neighbourhoods such as Lavapiés to reap on the benefits of an up and coming area, residents in these neighbourhoods are still facing inequality and racism. Big companies wish to infiltrate this area and develop big buildings in order to make more money, but they do not seem to be providing benefits to locals. Instead, new developments are buying up apartments, which displace locals and leave them homeless. Additionally, locals will have to not only find new homes, but will also have to pay higher rents as new and fancier buildings are causing real estate prices in Lavapiés to rise. Eventually, many locals might be left homeless, and have to leave the place they grew up in, and yet at the end of the day, they will still face inequality and racism.

Feminist go home

Yet another look at the inequality and injustice people are facing, which has resulted in increased resistance among the people of Madrid. Although this does not primarily relate to resistance between the residents of Lavapiés and big companies, it shows that people in Lavapiés are more opposed and resistant to change and developments. Perhaps with an increase in attention and care spent on the locals in Lavapiés, they will become more resilient to new developments. It becomes a give and take situation, there has to be a middle ground in which both sides benefit and are happy.

Bulletin board

These graffiti and posters act as a form for locals in Lavapiés to communicate with one another, and through events held in the neighbourhood, I believe residents are able to meet in person to talk about their feelings whether it be the constant inequality they face or just about the new song that was released an hour ago. They are also able to show and demonstrate their frustrations through such bulletin boards.

Through these pictures, we can see the growing tension that people of Madrid are facing. Economic development with the aid of growing tourism and increased infrastructure has led to a higher rate of people infiltrating neighbourhoods such as Lavapiés. This has resulted in a growing tension between residents and outsiders - foreigners or/and big companies. As seen by the pictures, residents of Lavapiés are against the idea of new developments into the area as living costs are increasing for residents with hardly any benefits for them. If the people of Lavapiés are compensated fairly or even handsomely, and are treated with equality, maybe there will be less resistance to new growth and infrastructure in Lavapiés. This way, both the big companies and residents will benefit and grow together, rather than simply the big and already rich companies becoming even richer.

Jie-Ling Ngo

Gentrification in Madrid

What is "Gentrification"?

To introduce a conundrum that seems to be a continuous problem in Madrid, I will start by briefly explaining the term, gentrification. Gentrification is the buying and renovating of properties in lower income neighborhoods by upper/ middle-income individuals, groups of investors, or banks. Often times, investors venture out for a lower income neighborhood that they deem to be "up-and-coming," so that they could take part in the next big culture that they foresee in the neighborhood. In other words, they select a neighborhood primarily based on the number of visitors, cost of purchase, and the attractiveness of the pre-existing culture, and try to benefit from them monetarily. They renovate their purchased buildings to transform them into a cash cow, a steady source of revenue. This process normally improves property values, and often drives low-income families and small businesses out of their local neighborhoods as a result. That is, it pushes the original inhabitants to a point where they cannot keep up with the high rent prices, eventually leading to eviction.

Develop[ed]: The Past

The Past: post-gentrification Chueca, the old Lavapiés

Chueca, the neighborhood we stayed in during our exploration of Madrid, is a prime example of a post gentrification neighborhood. My first impression of Chueca was that it reminded me of a more "European" America. It felt homey, as it did not feel as different from home as I had expected it to be. It was when Mr. Jose Ovejero came to talk with us when I realized that this was no coincidence. Chueca was a neighborhood designed for visitors, just like the 50th street and 9th avenue in NYC.

Chueca used to be like Lavapiés; yet, due to gentrification, the architectural structure has changed: the height and size of building has increased (due to the investors buying sky zones from other buildings), building zones have been more commercialized (leaving less residential buildings for the locals), and businesses adapted to be more apt for tourists. For example, there were “hipster” American and Chinese restaurants near our hotel (we managed to find a Madrid version of Johnny Rockets), catering to the taste of tourists. We also discovered an entire square dominated by foreign franchises such as Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts (known as Dunkin Coffee in Spain). As a result, most previous residents of Chueca moved out to more affordable neighborhoods like Lavapiés.

Develop[ing]: The Present

The Present: Lavapiés

Nous Sommes Un Exemple De Vie En Commun. “We are an example of coexistence.”

That would be Lavapiés, a lower income neighborhood with a large immigrant population (which accounts for 60% of the population). It has a reputation as a “vertical slum”, with its blocks empty or occupied by low income inhabitants. Due to its proximity to major tourist locations, the increase in tourists and visitors has made it a target of gentrification. This is becoming a major conundrum, since the ultimate yet typical stage of gentrification - eviction - will once again force the local tenants out of their hometown. This naturally makes the locals' fear and anger gear towards the tourists, which is ironic, as tourists provide one of the largest revenue stream.

As you can see in the photos above, investors have been investing in properties in the neighborhood to renovate them, with the ultimate goal of benefiting from the increased property value. The second photo shows a juxtaposition of the locals sitting and chatting next to the construction site. The third photo shows the different ethnicities represented in the neighborhood, which conveys the message, "we are an example of coexistence" in French, showing a sign of living together in unity.

How is Lavapiés changing?

Lavapiés: Construction Site
Contrasting Theaters in Lavapiés

Change is happening in Lavapiés via gentrification, as mentioned constantly throughout this section. As visitors increased, investors deemed it as the next “up and coming” neighborhood, buying and renovating properties. We were able to witness the live site of gentrification in Lavapiés, including but not limited to the construction sites such as that of the picture above, where building renovation was in progress. We also saw a tremendous contrast in different part of the neighborhood and in buildings such as theaters in Lavapiés. The theaters in the outskirts of the neighborhood were graffiti-ed on, like Teatro Del Barrio above, while the theaters in the more touristy part of the neighborhood seemed much cleaner and more modern.

How is Spain addressing this problem?

Gentrification is a complex subject - it both benefits and damages the economy. It benefits the economy by drawing in tourists, as the more renovated buildings and environment apt for tourists and visitors draw in more profit from other countries. However, it puts the local tenants at a disadvantage, as they lose the local culture that they built while losing their homes. With Spain's current unemployment rate being nearly 20%, it is a major issue that Spain must resolve.

When Mr. Jose Ovejero visited to speak with us regarding this matter, I could not help but to ask, how is Madrid addressing this problem of constant eviction due to unaffordable rent prices? In addressing the issue of homelessness, the United States, after the Financial Crisis in 2008, created numerous aid programs for people who could not afford to pay mortgages, such as the HAMP Act. The US government also passed laws that made it stricter for residential tenants to get evicted. Financial institutions started to offer modification and refinancing products to alleviate the damages from the crisis.

Mr. Ovejero's answer was concise and to the point - Spain is in the process of changing. It is slow, but it is definitely transforming. The European Union has been working on passing stricter tenant eviction laws, and financial institutions also have been offering more appropriate products to alleviate the conundrum. That was when I realized that Spain was not only constantly changing by renovating its buildings and attractions for outer-audience. It was also transforming its structure for its inner audience - its heritage.

Christine H. Park

What are the impacts of these changes, and how can we tell?

Though Madrid has seen a drastic fall in foreign investment projects while such projects have grown modestly in Barcelona, there is still a strong tourist presence in Madrid. This has created some tension as more native Madrileños see the impacts of gentrification in their neighborhoods. Constant change has become most visible in Lavapiés, where immigrants were once welcomed, as upper-middle income Madrileños move in to the neighborhood. Such a rapid shift, as was also seen in Chueca, has manifested itself in many ways, most noticeably through street art and graffiti. I found this was most pronounced near La Calle de San Isabel and El Parque Casino de la Reina. Pictured here is one of the first graffiti I saw: #pornocapitalismo, or “not for capitalism”. This was tagged on the back of a street sign directly across from a new construction project for mid-to-high-level condominiums.

Just a few streets over, I found this tag: mis flores nacieron mustias, roughly “My flowers were born wilted.” The area was crammed with multi-level apartment style buildings, each with small balconies where one could do little more than stand and watch the goings-on in the alley below. The stores in the area were all shuttered, showing their decorated garage storefronts instead of being open for business, though it was before lunch. Given the lack of activity and commerce in and around the street I found this, I had to wonder if the graffiti was just an artist finding a more colorful way of expressing them self or if it was a criticism of the neighborhood, a recognition of the lack of opportunity someone from this part of Lavapiés may have compared to others within the same neighborhood.

As I moved towards El Parque Casino de la Reina, I came across a familiar tag: a circumscribed capital letter A. I had seen this on a number of tags, but this one in particular stood out. Just after the entrance to a grocery store, the words pedir, robar, nunca trabajar! No mendigues lo que puedes robar!!! appeared. The second portion appeared to be added to an original tag, meaning graffiti artists in this area use their work as a way to communicate not only with those in the neighborhood, but also other graffiti artists—other protesters—around them. Looking back on the history of graffiti, at least in Europe, it began as an attempt to achieve political goals or get official recognition of a cause. To see the words “to ask for, to steal, never to work” responded to with the phrase “Don’t beg for what you can steal” is an indictment on the number of beggars in the neighborhood, perhaps, but also on the whole is representative of the economic difficulties faced by many in Lavapiés especially.

Josh Boutin

Analysis & Conclusion

Madrid BBVA Headquarters

Ultimately, we came to see this strange dichotomy of a city that both wants to continue to develop and to preserve its heritage. It is this seeming paradox that has created this sense of fear throughout the city as people are fighting with their sense of innovation and change; however, this paradox that we see is far from illogical. Rather, it is painfully logical. A major contributor to this paradox is that the growth and development has been unequal. Madrid’s economic growth has been invested heavily in, but its social development has lagged behind due to neglect. This has led to the economic elite of Madrid to encroach upon neighborhoods that traditionally have been havens for the poor. This foundation of safety for the less fortunate is crumbling.


We see this disparity in growth by the regal buildings that Madrid’s banking institutions reside and in the run down apartments that Madrid’s advocacy groups are located. This discrepancy would not be more apparent and seems to indicate that these conflicts are made visible via the architecture and design of the buildings and streets of Madrid. While Salamanca was bright with wide, straight roads and tall buildings, seemingly inviting people and embracing them, Lavapiés was claustrophobic with anorexic, tangled roads and stout buildings that did their best to not allow outsiders in. However, this attempt seemed near futile as we saw new developments encroach into the outskirts of the neighborhood. Still, a sense of self-dependence was strong in the area as all stores were locally owned and no major franchises were established in Lavapiés.


This seemingly cold, and unforgiving economic growth has been a major contributor to the sense of fear that people’s lives are being upended, which leads to one thing: social instability. If this state of unequal change were to continue, then the social instability and fear that these areas of the city will continue to grow. If the city does truly want to grow to be a world class city, then this issue with the lack of social investment must be addressed. In fact, we saw the same issues occur in Spanish history. When Madrid was reconquered by the Kingdom of Castile, the Muslim people were allowed to stay and integrate with the city. Thus, they helped to build part of Madrid's rich architectural and cultural history. However, during the Spanish Inquisition, any non-Catholics were detained and prosecuted, which led to a dark period in Madrid's history despite it also being the beginning of Spain's global empire. Both of these periods saw much uncertainty and fear in the city. However, the social developments that occurred were the defining factors of these periods in Madrid.

This sense of fear that is present in Madrid should not be viewed as a travesty. Rather it is a sign that change is coming. How this change will occur is uncertain, but this fear may be a precursor for Madrid to flourish in the decades to come if they address this fear properly as cities flourish when social development is also taken alongside economic development.

James Kim

¡Muchas gracias!

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