August 6, 2021

Benidorm, “oasis of modernist design” for the ‘Financial Times’

As “classist and condescending” the critic of architecture and design of the Financial Times, Edwin Heathcote, the image that popular culture has spread of Benidorm, a place full of “British pubs and Las Vegas-style neon” frequented by “lobster-pink beer drinkers and screaming babes”, but that doesn’t stop Benidorm from and its skyscrapers represent “an oasis of modernist design”.

In a long and documented article published this week by the prestigious British newspaper, the expert architect, author of a dozen books and critic of the FT since 1999, affirms that Benidorm “may not be the height of sophistication, but as an architectural experiment , it remains as intriguing and compelling as it was when it was conceived in the mid-20th century. ”

In his opinion, Benidorm represents “a model of density that has not only endured, but has proven to be incredibly influential and yet almost uncredited, probably due to snobbery.”

His model “has not only endured, but has proven to be incredibly influential and yet almost uncredited, probably due to snobbery”

Heathcote echoes the prejudice that Benidorm despises as a cement hell that ruined an idyllic fishing village, but considers the Alicante town to be “ground zero” in Europe for an experiment that took place in America in Miami: the creation of a vertical city on the sea. “Without Benidorm, perhaps there would be no Dubai, another city founded on sand and forged across its horizon,” says the architect.

The impressive Intempo building “would feel equally at home in Shanghai or Dubai”

Both cities are products “of a time when the future of architecture was leisure. Cheaper travel, more free time, longer vacations, easier currency exchange: the new utopia of the 1960s would be a landscape of mega hotels with pools, towers with balconies, pedestrian streets with endless opportunities to dine, drink and dance, all executed in the crisp and clean architecture of international modernism with views of the infinite blue of the sea. “

After recalling the beginnings of its urbanization at the hands of the mayor Pedro Zaragoza (without forgetting his well-known defense of the bikini against the archaic Catholic morality of the Franco regime), the expert highlights that the construction of the skyscrapers produced some towers “astonishingly modern for a country in which architecture had been stuck in a conservative culture (with a few brilliant exceptions like Miguel Fisac) “.

The towers were “astonishingly modern for a country with its architecture stuck in a conservative culture”

The expert assures that “with the impressive background of the Puig Campana mountains, the towers were less disturbing than if they had been built in a flat landscape; the horizon was imposed against the topography, as in Hong Kong”. And although “there were no architectural stars in Benidorm, no famous names or global firms, yet many of the towers are ingenious, elegant, sometimes minimal, sometimes maximal, sometimes space age …”

However, the report of the Financial Times he stops to gloss the figure of Juan Guardiola Gaya (1927-2005), the most influential figure in the configuration of the Benidorm skyline. Catalan, Gaya moved to Alicante in 1959.

The text glossed the figure of Juan Guardiola Gaya (1927-2005), “the most influential figure in the configuration of the Benidorm skyline”

He designed more than 40 towers in the town and more than 100 in the region. From the 29-story Coblanca Tower, Benidorm’s first skyscraper (1966), to the incredible 26-story Benidorm Tower (1975), “its buildings ranged from elegant international style to expressive late modernism.”

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On the spot, Heathcote even describes the interiors, lobbies, murals and decoration that in many cases retain their original appearance, and compares them with buildings in other cities, such as New York or Sao Paulo, and with works by figures such as Oscar Niemeyer.

“The density of this high-rise complex means that the elevations are as critical as the layout of the streets. It is rich, complex and colorful,” the article explains. “Almost all buildings have grating of balconies that give them texture, reinforced with glossy awnings. Although many are now non-functional or in poor condition, the interplay of lowered, half-lowered and raised fabrics gives a wonderful and varied richness to the buildings. towers in striking palettes; canary yellows, treetop greens … “

“The last of the truly elegant late modern towers is the Neguri Gane, which predicted the shape of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa”

He also has praise for more recent works, such as the controversial 47-story Intempo tower, which just finished has not even been inaugurated yet, which in his opinion “would feel equally at home in Shanghai or Dubai.” Of its architect, Roberto Pérez Guerras, another of his works stands out: “the last of the truly elegant late modern towers is the Neguri Gane, with an affinity with the White Towers of 1961 in Madrid” and that “predicted the shape of the Burj Khalifa from Dubai “.

In short, concludes the expert, while “much of the world is being neglected with its best architecture of the sixties and seventies, redeveloping it to obtain a greater density and profits, Benidorm still delights in it”.

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Despite the displeasure caused by a certain street environment caused by British tourism that does not contribute to making Benidorm “a beautiful place”, the article concludes that “glimpses of the incredible architecture and design of the city are glimpsed through the entrances more Strange from the apartments, through the pools and balconies. “

And the city “revels in its reinterpretations of modernity. The towers are a rare survival of the optimistic architecture of a future dedicated to leisure, which, perhaps, we will never reach.”