The Thyssen Museum in Madrid



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Baroness Thyssen in fight
over Prado Road redesign

By Daniel González Herrera

28 April 2006: The new project to redesign the Paseo del Prado (Prado Road) in Madrid was fiercly criticised by Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, who claims that the proposed road layout would leave the Thyssen Museum choking in exhaust fumes. “They want to put a motorway in front of one of the world’s most important art collections,” she said.

The new road layout was designed by a team of five architects, headed by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza, and envisages to remodel the old avenue to make it more accessible to the pedestrians. Miguel Zugaza, director of the Prado Museum, near the Thyssen Museum, said that the plans would benefit both museums. “The redesign will create more pedestrian space and will move the cars away from the area,” Mr Zugaza explained.

However, Carmen Thyssen sees it differently. The Baroness, widow of the late Baron Thyssen, played a decisive role in bringing the Thyssen art collection to Spain in 1993. The collection, for which the Spanish government paid more than 250 million euro, was placed in the Villahermosa’s Palace in Madrid, and in Pedralbes Monastery, in Barcelona. Now the Baroness complains that her museum will be worst affected by the road plan. “They want to put a motorway in front of us.” she said. “People who visit our museum will have to swallow the carbon monoxide. Behind this collection are many years of work and sacrifice and I am very saddened to see how it is mistreated. I feel hurt, offended and upset.”

According to the Baroness, the most destructive aspect of the plan is the proposed removal of more than 700 trees, 95 of which are classified as special and should be treated with particular care. These huge trees were planted in the 18th Century, during the reign of King Carlos III and since then have been witness to some of the most important events in Madrid’s history. Under the plan, the hundred-years old trees will be moved and replanted in a new designated ‘green zone’. However, the Baroness maintains that it was impossible to move trees of that age and size and consequently most of them would die. She called on all nature lovers like herself to chain themselves to the trees. “I will eat my food from a lunch box and will not be moved,” she threatened.

Carlos de Riaño, one of the architects in charge of the project, said that during the last public consultation period the city received comments from all the institutions and added that the Thyssen Museum had not said anything. He also said he was very surprised by Thyssen’s criticism, particularly as other museums in the area were very happy with the new design. He also added that under the proposal new green areas would be created. “The trees will not disappear,” he maintained.

Meanwhile, the opposition on Madrid’s City Council support the Baroness in her battle. Félix Arias, a member of the Socialist Party and councillor for urban development agrees with the Baroness and said that this trees were 10 to 15 metres high and could not be transplanted. “They will die,” he warned. In his opinion, a better solution for the Prado road would be to reduce the car lanes.


The Paseo del Prado (Prado Road) as it is today


The old and new Prado Road
The Prado road grew in importance during the reign of Carlos III, when the area was transformed and developed into one of the most important avenues in Madrid. Since the middle of the 19th Century, it became the favourite place to take long walks for the capital elite. During that epoch, the area received the name Trajineros street (from ‘trajín’ meaning hectic). The name, Trajinero, has now been adopted for the project by architect Álvaro Siza.

The redesing project, which was chosen in a public contest over three other plans, intends to move the traffic away from the Prado Museum across to the side of the Thyssen Museum, while increasing the pavements and, at the same time, constructing three lanes of traffic in each direction, with a grove in the middle. The remainder of the urban space of the road is designed to become a huge boulevard-park for pedestrians.

This part of Madrid has three of the most important Spanish museums: the Prado Museum, the Sophia Queen Museum, and the Thyssen Museum. The special plan for the construction of the project will be approved in July 2006 by the city council, but work will not begin until after municipal elections in May of 2007.