It is inspiring that some of AZCA’s owners have created an initiative to reinvigorate AZCA’s public spaces. How can we ensure that this collective effort becomes a success? How can we revitalize the area? What are the critical ingredients that will make it more successful and attractive? The solution to this lies in user comfort and attractiveness.
Let’s create a new AZCA that has a refreshing coolness in summer, and welcoming warmth in winter, making the space an emblem for climate comfort, social inclusiveness, and vibrancy. A diverse range of users, from office workers, families, children, and the elderly will bring AZCA to life with a diverse range of activities around the clock and throughout all seasons. People will be inspired to visit, to leisurely walk around, to meet friends and to linger a while to enjoy the cool breezes and vibrant atmosphere that the public spaces, amenities, and adjacent program will offer to the different user groups.
One of the lessons learned from AZCA´s Modernist approach to urbanism. On the contrary, the public spaces with the best results are those in which traditional planning is fused with concertation processes capable of integrating citizen initiatives.
A step-by-step process is necessary to support the initiative in the long term, and to incrementally attract visitors, while winning the support of both neighbours and investors. This creates room for adaptation over time, inviting users to participate in shaping the area. Testing and developing, we build on Renazca’s initiative, working within possible budgets. The following steps outline this strategy. Important for the redevelopment of AZCA will be planting the seeds in succinct steps that are specific to create change, while being flexible enough for users and stakeholders to help create, define, and mould it to meet their needs.
How ‘subtle’ must this first step be? What are the necessary elements for successful transformation? A small green-ification strategy would be sympathetic, but insufficient; AZCA needs an emblem and identity that inspires and encourages belief in a remarkable future, after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first step is the ‘cleaning’ up the streetscape and making it legible by demolishing all redundant structures (paving, stairs, ramps, slabs, levels and obstacles). The opening act also improves the quality of levels beneath, including existing infrastructures. It draws in daylight to the lower levels. Finally, it adds greenery and ventilation to specific spaces such as the surroundings of Torre Picasso.
This is followed by plantation and repaving. We transform the area into a cooler space in the summer and a warmer place in the winter, by cultivating a dense Madrillian agri forest. This is composed of a true mélange of trees such as oaks, pines, olive trees, lime trees, poplars, maples, willows, and shrubbery like berries and high grasses. Mixing these with some of the plane trees (the others are replanted elsewhere in the city), we create a less vulnerable landscape, specific to the climate in and around Madrid. This vegetation filters the air and provides natural shading to cool the space in summer and shelter it in winter. We flood the environs with oxygen allowing the city to breathe. Furthermore, we can store water in winter to protect the vegetation, while evaporating water in summer to provide a cooling effect. This supports biodiversity, year-round beauty, abundant shading and shelter, and heat absorption.
On the lower levels with openings above on the ground plane, we can plant large trees, as the current decks will not support the weight of large trees. Select locations where this kind of vegetation is possible. We use a mix vegetation of oaks, pines, olive trees, lime trees, poplars, maples, and willows. All these species are commonly found in the ecosystems surrounding Madrid.
The vegetation works with permeable paving as it does in old parks; however, like rammed earth, it creates a warmer and more natural feeling. This material makes the spaces lighter, and with abundant greenery, it takes on a clear and identifiable quality. This way, it becomes one continuous street-park infused with programmed activities.
Lighting features used throughout the park create a poetic atmosphere, drawing natural light to lower levels, and providing additional artificial light to lower-level tunnels, as well as combining lighting features and outdoor furniture.
The outdoor program uses sports and leisure activities to connect places and amenities, with an outer programmatic circuit in the streets and an inner programmatic ring of activities surrounding the central plaza.
Filling some of the existing slabs with temporary program facilitates a transformation of the lower level. Adding restaurants and cafes with terraces with a view activates the central plaza.
The central plaza forms the core of the new urban forest. By adding gentle reliefs and creating a valley recess, we create better soil conditions for trees. The gentle valleys in between the trees, shrubs and grasses strengthen the cooling effect as it acts as a thermal mass, storing cool air in summer, and warmth in winter.
Ecological, soft terrazzo for walking and meeting covers these valley areas. This softly curves up towards the hills to allow for sitting on the edges, and softly curves down to central plazas for soccer, theatre and gatherings. The gentle undulation allows for overviews, making the plaza more theatrical. The undulation makes all levels universally accessible.
With a changeable level of water on the undulating pavement, we can create an adaptable climate machine that transforms into a cooling shallow watershed for children and families, during hot days (though not a pool due to maintenance and security risks). The surrounding trees maintain cool temperatures on the low level. The adjustable water level allows for flexible usage. At its highest level, it is a lake with islands. For example, for fans who want to celebrate Real’s victories, by wading into its shallow depths. Lowering it by 20 centimetres, it forms some smaller lakes. It can then become an ice rink in winter. When deepened by 40 centimetres, the whole area can be used for events, theatre and or sports.
By stacking additional floors around this oasis, we can extend the forest in height. This leads to a rack of floors dressed in an urban forest. Plantings of oaks, olives, berries trees, ironwoods, and a selection of fruit trees and climbers expand the leafy, cool oasis. This creates abundant shade in summer, cleans the air, and reduces ambient heat from the towers, providing freshness in the dense city fabric. Paths through the forest lead to viewing points, cafés, bars and terraces between the plantings, where possible.
A gradient of planting and usage is suggested. First floors have plants and paths for people to circulate, with heavy plantation and trees, while the intermediate levels have greenery, which defines the space and creates microclimates, providing accessibility for maintenance. Finally, the upper levels have fewer plants, but provide a view platform to the city.
Designed according to an intensity of use, the lower levels are for walking leisurely and enjoying the plants, while the upper levels enable enjoyment of the view of the area and the towers. This way, the rack appears as a gradient of use.
Stairs, ramps and lifts connect the layers of the park with almost a theatrical appearance, an urban stage. This green rack has climbing facilities, children’s play features such as slides and jungle gyms. It becomes a new beacon in the city.
At certain levels, the floors are removed to open up to the vegetation, creating larger openings for the entry of the green room, and for views from and to the buildings close by. They also allow for opening the rack where needed for the winter sun, while creating more shade in summer.
The structure that supports the vertical forest is made of prefabricated elements. The constructive elements (columns, beams, tie rods, floors, stairs, planters) and programmatic (paths, bars, terraces, greenhouses) are linked by the vegetation and allow multiple configurations. This flexible system is open to future extensions and is capable of adapting to the wishes of different clients or sponsors.
It is as if the architectural ideas of the 60s gave hand to the wishes of 2020...
A series of bridges connect the vertical forest structure with the buildings that are part of the first phase of the competition, allowing users to directly access the vertical gardens at height from their workstations/ offices.
With the plaza, the rack creates a lush SALÓN VERDE in the city. It is an oasis for reprieve from the hot summer sun. Here, water functions as both an aesthetic and cooling feature. It becomes a new beacon in the city, a people-watching paradise, alive with activity and the pulse of the city. Lights illuminate the rack’s 3D landscape, and its activities, transforming this green urban room into a verdant Lantern.
Together, the square and the vertical forest give rise to a green version of Madrid's Plaza Mayor, an exuberant SALÓN VERDE in the city where you can take shelter from the relentless Madrid summer sun. In it, the water serves both to beautify and to refresh. The Green Room is a new urban landmark, a paradise to see and be seen, full of urban activity and intensity.
The green room is the act that culminates the will to green AZCA, and celebrates precisely what the area lacks. Both the pond and the vertical forest work complementary to refresh the space in summer and create sun-drenched spaces in winter. The green room is an invitation to visitors to stay, find each other, work and shelter from the cold and heat. At night, the luminaires illuminate the room and its activities, transforming it into the green lantern of Madrid. The green room is both iconic and functional, playing a fundamental role as an air conditioner.
In the future Bridges between the vertical rack and the towers create multiple connections that can catalyse innovative uses for the surrounding towers. This provides a clear opportunity for different owners to collaborate and co-invest, while also generating an additional future development layer for the project.
Also, a deeper oasis can be considered to allow for additional restaurants. Doing this, deepening the undulation and making a true pool might also be an option. Other security and safety measurements will have to be taken into account, but options such as these create more revenue opportunities. When deepening the plaza, inserting a bridge can connect the Castellana with the east side.
Further future developments outside the scope of the competition can be inspired by this foundation. These strategies may inspire the owners of other plots to follow suit. Public spaces can be transformed in the same way. Bridges and zebras might create connections over the Paseo de la Castellana and on to the station. El Corte Inglés might become El Corte Verde. Nuevos Ministerios might become a green station valley, and new green towers might grow from it, inspiring the owners of the plots and buildings that surround this new 3D forest to create new, or to transform their existing building facades and rooftops with a similar approach.
These steps and strategies transform the AZCA area and plaza into an exemplary climatizing machine, functioning as a precedent test site for other locations in Madrid, and around the world. AZCA becomes AZCA VERDE. It presents the new SALÓN VERDE of the city, with a vertical forest. This forest’s leafy green scaffolding and green streetscapes are emblems of the area’s original botanical garden intention.
The rack is an insertion and the crowning act of the greening of AZCA, celebrating precisely what the area lacks. This vertical element is both iconic and functional, performing a vital role as a climatizer. The pool and rack work in complement to cool the space in summer and create sun-bathed spots in winter. It encourages visitors to linger, meet, work, and invites the city into its sheltering form. At night it becomes the city’s Green Lantern. The world’s first vertical park.
At the foundation of this is the understanding that high quality public spaces that are comfortable, healthy, functional, and responsive to a diverse range of needs, attract people. Compelling programs, fresh air, greenery, and beautiful spaces, will encourage visitors to stay, make the place their own, and in turn mark it as an identifiable destination in Madrid.