Designing Roca Madrid Gallery

An interview with Carlos Lamela

Article image

The Roca Galleries merge the presentation of innovative products for the bathroom with the creation of a platform to exchange knowledge and stimulate debate about architecture, design and urbanism. Carlos Lamela shares his experiences designing the Roca Madrid Gallery, a space to celebrate exhibitions and professional and cultural events in the heart of the city.

The Roca Madrid Gallery opened in 2011 and it was the brand’s second Roca Gallery. Although it shares a common concept with the Roca Barcelona Gallery, the project is aesthetically different. Were there any common elements in the two projects?

Although we knew of the existence of projects for four cities—Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon and London—we never had contact with the architects and we knew that the goals for each one would be different. First of all, because the locations and budgets were different and the commercial objectives were also different. We knew that Zaha Hadid was developing the project in London and our good friends Carlos and Borja Ferrater were developing the project in Barcelona. We had little contact with each other, but they kept us more or less informed about how the different processes were going.

How do you approach a project like this where the DNA of the brand must be very present as well as the personal expression of the architect who designs it?

Obviously, every time professionals develop a project, they need to soak up the DNA of the brand. In this case, Roca was already a well-known company, but throughout the process we had the privilege and good fortune of understanding more about it and getting to know the people who were leading the Gallery project. I must say there was always a very close cooperation and we really ended up speaking the same language. In this sense the process was very easy.

Roca Madrid Gallery exhibition center by Carlos Lamela
Roca Madrid Gallery, Carlos Lamela/Estudio Lamela, 2009. Photo © Jaime Erice Torán

The space is located in a building that was already owned by Roca, with a concrete frieze on the facade by the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs that is very prominent and which has a very powerful symbolism and a visually heavy materiality. How did you approach the integration of this artistic element in a technologically advanced project?

It’s true that we were already familiar with the building, it’s well-known in Madrid. And we also knew about the mural by Subirachs, as it has an important presence on the corner of the streets of José Abascal and Zurbano. When we were commissioned for the project, we knew without a doubt it had to be integrated, cleaned, restored and revalued. The Roca representatives understood its importance and I must say I’m fortunate to have been able to work, albeit indirectly, with Subirachs. It’s really an outstanding piece.

Unfortunately, the integration of artwork in architecture—both murals and sculptures—especially when they are designed in a global way, has disappeared over the years.  At the beginning of my father’s career, in the 1950s, he always incorporated pieces by different visual artists in his buildings. It was clear for us that we had to conserve this piece, not only because of Subirachs and Roca, but also as a way to encourage this kind of integration in the future.

Along with the frieze, the outside of the building also makes use of audiovisual resources and has a window display with an outstanding visual impact, which is regularly updated. How do you find the balance between such powerful and at the same time such changing elements?

I believe that the integration of many types  of audiovisual resources in architecture will be increasingly relevant, because technology is advancing; audiovisual screens have more and more resolution, they are larger and more affordable. In the past, works such as the frieze by Subirachs, had to be integrated into the architecture. But nowadays, these audiovisual elements will be increasingly common. Mechanical devices will disappear and will be replaced by these kinds of technological screens with a very modern look. I believe that architecture will follow a different path with the incorporation of these elements, like the use of LEDs for exterior lighting. Until recently, exterior lighting for buildings was practically nonexistent, but now, with LEDs, we see that in many buildings, especially in Asian cultures, it is increasingly important in the buildings themselves and in the profile of cities.

The inside of the building integrates very large artistic elements, a product showroom and audiovisual resources related to the brand, as well as administrative and functional areas. What concept did you follow to achieve such a free-flowing combination of all these elements? 

It was a complex operation. First of all, this was a retail space meaning that, it was part of a building with low ceilings because at the time of its construction, the trend in architecture was to have limited heights and the building regulations based the buildability on cubic meters and not square meters. The result was that the height of every level became increasingly smaller. Therefore, it was a big effort to accommodate all the elements and the different installations defined in the program.

As for the distribution of the different spaces, we had to respond to the requirements of the company in terms of the functionality. But I think this was easily solved, as both the company representatives and we as architects were very clear about the type of spaces and the type of uses these spaces would have. All this, along with the correct colors, the right lighting and also the solutions we had to come up with for the product showroom resulted in a space that we believe has been very successful and well coordinated.

Roca Madrid Gallery exhibition center by Estudio Lamela”
Roca Madrid Gallery, Carlos Lamela/Estudio Lamela, 2009. Photo © Jaime Erice Torán

If you had to highlight one element of special interest in the project, what would it be?

One thing I especially like is what I call the cinema. It is a space in the back, with a curved screen and with a double vertical and horizontal projection that envelops the viewer, where you can almost feel as if you are in a very futuristic cinema. This is the area I find most interesting, because you need to visit the entire space before reaching it. And it’s like a big surprise. When visitors arrive to this screening room they are pleasantly surprised and very impressed.

Also, the circular metal curtains, which were solved with a very clever solution, using bicycle chains after we did a lot of thinking about the mechanics needed to solve the problem. This is one of the more clever aspects of the project which perhaps is less visible because you have to know about it to be able to notice it.

And then, as a third element, the exterior projections. I think that the drivers who stop for seconds or minutes at the traffic lights on the corner of the streets of José Abascal and Zurbano must find it very surprising when they watch these people continually washing themselves in front of the entire city.

Main Image: Roca Madrid Gallery, Carlos Lamela/Estudio Lamela, 2009. Photo © Jaime Erice Torán

Highlighted articles in Eye on Design

Subscribe to our newsletter