At long last, Foster + Partners’ Prado Museum expansion will move ahead


At long last, Foster + Partners’ Prado Museum expansion will move ahead

A rendering depicting the revitalized Hall of Realms/Prado Museum expansion project in Madrid. (Courtesy Foster + Partners)

Nearly five years after a team led by Foster + Partners and Madrid-based studio Rubio Arquitectura was tapped to lead the dramatic expansion of Museo Nacional del Prado, the long-stalled project will finally move forward. As first reported by El País, the news comes from an announcement that the Spanish Council of Ministers has approved a budget of $42 million (36 million euros) for a credit line to the country’s main national art museum over a three-year span.

The funds will enable the Prado Museum, which is among one of the most visited art museums in the world, to commence work on the winning design team’s Hidden Design proposal, which was selected over schemes presented by a formidable shortlist of firms (OMA and David Chipperfield Architects among them) for the high-profile commission. Mariano Rajoy, the former Prime Minister of Spain, gave his blessing to the expansion project in 2015, a year before the competition winner was announced.

Three years before that, in 2012, the Prado officially acquired the neighboring Hall of Realms (Salón de Reinos) and announced it would be rehabilitated and converted into a new museum building. Originally a wing of the now largely destroyed Buen Retiro Palace complex, the 17th-century Hall of Realms once housed the largest paintings held in the Royal Collections, all of which have since been relocated to the Prado where they are on display. Per Artnet, those works will likely be returned to the Hall of Realms, as initially planned, once the overhaul is complete.

From 1841 through 2010, the Hall of Realms housed the Museum of the Army, which now displays its collections at the Alcázar of Toledo. Plans to relocate the Museum of the Army to Toledo, a historic city just south of Madrid, and then restore and reopen the Hall of Realms as part of the Prado date back to as far as the mid-1990s according to The Art Newspaper. The Prado expansion scheme, however, was only formalized after the Hall of Realms was vacated and the Museum of the Army reopened within the Alcázar of Toledo.

As noted by El País, campus renovation and expansion work centered around the Hall of Realms was initially slated to wrap in 2019 to coincide with the Prado’s 200th-anniversary celebrations. However, as the Madrid-based daily newspaper diplomatically puts it, “the complicated political situation in recent years” has pushed the anticipated completion date back to 2024.

As envisioned by Foster + Partners and Rubio Arquitectura, Hidden Design will physically connect the main museum building to the Hall of Realms, which will be extensively renovated and its floors reorganized to allow for new galleries (27,000 square feet of new exhibition space in total) and its roof replaced with a shade-providing cantilevered structure with integrated solar cells. The project also calls for a soaring new entrance atrium to be added to the historic building’s southern facade.

Reads a section of Foster + Partners and Rubio Arquitectura’s competition submission:

“Our vision for the new Prado Campus brings the essence of the Palacio del Buen Retiro back to life, by creating a new public focus for the city and stitching the various buildings of the Museo del Prado together. The primary protagonist is the noble Hall of Realms, a monument which has gathered many layers of history throughout the centuries. These layers will be peeled back to reveal the original 17th century façade, which will become the primary exhibit of the new museum.”

“The Hall of Realms, built by Crescenzi and Carbonel in the 1630s, is one of the very few remains of the former palace and predates the Museum which was conceived in 1819,” elaborated Sir Norman Foster back in 2016 following the competition win. “Two centuries later the transformation and expansion of this historic hall will add significant new galleries and related public spaces to the Prado. It will also create, as a setting, a new urban focus for the city of Madrid.”

The Prado will receive its first disbursement of funding, roughly $9.6 million, from the government next year.