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The Institution

The extension

With the termination of Rafael Moneo’s project around the area of the Church of the Jerónimos, the Museo del Prado has completed the most important extension to its building in its almost 200 years of history. This project, which includes the creation of new exhibition galleries and the restoration of the former Jerónimos Cloister, is part of an ongoing expansion project that involves the incorporation of various nearby buildings into the Prado, including the Casón and the Salón de Reinos, the last surviving remains of the Buen Retiro Palace. When completed, the Prado will constitute a unique museum campus that will enormously increase the already outstanding cultural facilities to be found in one of the most important art and cultural districts in the world, known as the “Paseo del Prado” and located in the Spanish capital.

The Museum is now celebrating the conclusion of an important phase in the creation of the new Museo del Prado Campus, involving the extension of the Museum’s main building into the area of the Jerónimos Cloister, in accordance with the architect Rafael Moneo’s project. Following two architectural competitions, Moneo’s project was chosen for the design of the Museum’s new extension in 1998. Work began in February 2002 under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture.

The new building incorporates more than 22,000 square metres of surface area (an increase of more than 50% on the existing size) and will allow the various visitor facilities and other aspects relating to the display and conservation of the collections to be arranged in a more ordered and spacious way.

Extension of the Museo del Prado by architect Rafael Moneo.

Moneo's Plan

Moneo’s design for the present project respects the original building, its surroundings and the unique buildings adjoining it (the church of the Jerónimos and the Academia Española). It links the Museum to a complex comprising a new building and the restored Cloister. This solution, which has allowed the Museum to extend across all the available adjoining space, also frees up the original building, allowing it to be seen as Villanueva originally intended.

From the outside, the link between the new and old buildings is concealed by a planted-out platform of box hedges which evokes 18th-century gardens and creates a landscaped area that joins up with the Botanical Gardens located next to the Museum. In addition, the new brick building constructed around the old Jerónimos Cloister is aligned with the façade of the church of that name, leaving the exterior of the restored and reconstructed arcading of the Cloister visible from the outside. Its façade opens onto the adjacent street area, which has also been remodelled, through a pair of monumental bronze doors commissioned by Moneo from the sculptor Cristina Iglesias.

Inside, the available surface area has been used in a striking and innovative way, with the three floors used for public access connected by a double escalator, and a further five mezzanine floors for internal museum use. The prevailing use of Colmenar stone and bronze creates a visual link with the materials used in Villanueva’s original building.

The new spaces

Moneo’s design for the present project respects the original building, its surroundings and the unique buildings adjoining it (the church of the Jerónimos and the Academia Española). It links the Museum to a complex comprising a new building and the restored Cloister. This solution, which has allowed the Museum to extend across all the available adjoining space, also frees up the original building, allowing it to be seen as Villanueva originally intended.

From the outside, the link between the new and old buildings is concealed by a planted-out platform of box hedges which evokes 18th-century gardens and creates a landscaped area that joins up with the Botanical Gardens located next to the Museum. In addition, the new brick building constructed around the old Jerónimos Cloister is aligned with the façade of the church of that name, leaving the exterior of the restored and reconstructed arcading of the Cloister visible from the outside. Its façade opens onto the adjacent street area, which has also been remodelled, through a pair of monumental bronze doors commissioned by Moneo from the sculptor Cristina Iglesias.

Inside, the available surface area has been used in a striking and innovative way, with the three floors used for public access connected by a double escalator, and a further five mezzanine floors for internal museum use. The prevailing use of Colmenar stone and bronze creates a visual link with the materials used in Villanueva’s original building.

The origins of the cloister

The monastery of San Jerónimo el Real had two cloisters. The first and older of the two was destroyed between 1855 and 1856, while the second was a Renaissance cloister built in the 16th century for religious and secular use. The latter was replaced about a century after its construction by a Baroque cloister designed by Fray Lorenzo de San Nicolás. This is the cloister that has survived to the present day and is popularly known as the Jerónimos Cloister.

As with the rest of the monastery, Fray Lorenzo’s cloister was considerably affected during the 19th and 20th centuries due to numerous changes of ownership and use, as well as alterations and rebuilding. As a result, little more than the skeleton of the structure survived. Fortunately, the finest and most interesting part retained the potential to be restored and incorporated into the new extension of the Museo del Prado, a project of outstanding merit and importance.

State of the cloister before restoration

The State of the cloister before restoration

The present project involved the restoration and consolidation of the remains of the Cloister prior to its integration within the Museum’s new extension. The consolidation and restoration of the monument was considered both necessary and urgent as the structure was in an extremely poor state and was almost a ruin after more than 50 years of inexplicable neglect. The deterioration of the stone elements was evident to the naked eye by comparing photographs of these elements taken at the end of the 19th century with the state of the Cloister before its present restoration. This situation was confirmed by the team from the Department of Mineralogy and Petrology of the Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros de Minas in Madrid, which was commissioned to study the structure and present a diagnosis.

Preparatory consolidation of the cloister

In addition to the above-mentioned preliminary study, the Cloister underwent a process of preparatory consolidation prior to being dismantled and subsequently restored and reinstalled. This work was carried out under the direction of two specialists from the Gerencia de Infrastructuras of the Ministry of Culture and a restorer from the Instituto de Patrimonio Histórico Español (IPHE). The final report on this work included a study of the stability and possible consolidation of the arcading with a diagram of damage, work carried out and risks. The various studies undertaken at this point revealed the serious deterioration not just of the stone but also of the Cloister’s structure, with the consequent risk of collapse.

Once the preparatory consolidation work had been carried out in order to ensure that dismantling could be undertaken without any risk to the structure, and following a photographic study, restoration started on the stone elements of the Cloister under the direction of four specialists from the Ministry of Culture (Gerencia de Infrastructuras and the IPHE).

After the 2,820 stones had been dismantled and moved to the restoration studios in Alcalá de Henares where work was to be carried out, each element was recorded and given an identifying code and number. A sketch of each of the lines of masonry was made in order to be able to subsequently reassemble the blocks, while photographs were taken of the front faces and of sides of stonework not previously visible.

The restoration as an essential element in the remodelling

The restoration team set up a computerised database in order to make an exhaustive record of the work carried out on each of the stone blocks as well as the restoration treatments applied to them. Each of the dismantled and numbered blocks was identified in the database with an exact description (architrave, cornice, coat-of-arms, etc) as well as its weight, measurements, location and storage, physical condition, treatment and photography (initial and final state).

The definitive restoration started with the application of a treatment to eradicate areas of biological deterioration, applied to all the visible sides of the original blocks as a preventative measure. The areas with high salt content were desalinated while surfaces were cleaned with easily controllable, non-invasive methods that did not involve any risk of damage or loss of surface material. Cracked stones that were not repaired during the consolidation phase as they were out of line, as well as those that needed reinforcing, were pulled together with fibre-glass rods and epoxy resin, ensuring that future colour change would not take place.

The Architectural recovery of the cloister and its return to public view

Following the restoration of the total of nearly 3,000 blocks and the start of work on the extension project, the Cloister was reassembled in exactly its original position. Enclosed within a concrete shell in order to be integrated into the new building designed by Rafael Moneo, it now comprises a key element of the Museum’s extension. The remodelling of the Cloister as part of the expansion has allowed this structure – defined as a “gallery that surrounds the main courtyard of a Church or Monastery” - to retain its particular character, given that it can once again be seen as an interior architectural element within a building. This is the case both from the interior of its courtyard and from the surrounding galleries created in the building that houses it, as well as to a partial degree from the exterior. The Cloister’s essential character has thus not been modified; on the contrary, it has regained the architectural meaning and significance that it had lacked since the demolition of the former monastery of which it originally formed a part.

Chronology of the extension

As noted earlier, since its creation in 1819, the Museo del Prado grew in a systematic but relatively modest way, resulting in a longstanding need for a large-scale extension project of the type that other historic museums of comparable importance had undertaken in the last decades of the 20th century: the National Gallery of Washington between 1971 and 1978; the Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1970 and 1990; the National Gallery of London between 1985 and 1991; and the Musée du Louvre in two phases between 1989 and 1993. Aside from differences relating to size and requirements, these extensions all shared the aim of responding for the first time to the contemporary transformation of these great historical museums into increasingly dynamic cultural centres with constantly growing visitor numbers. In the case of the Museo del Prado, there were no remaining options for gaining more space in the Villanueva building. Various different ideas were consequently proposed in the 1980s.

1995. The Parliamentary Pact and the first Competition for the Extension

In the early 1990s, and in response to varying requirements, it was generally felt that the Prado should expand by recuperating the last surviving remains of the Buen Retiro Palace (the Casón and Salón de Reinos, the latter the home of the Museo del Ejército [Army Museum]) and possibly the former Jerónimos Cloister. This idea focused around the concept of emphasising the Museum’s historical origins. In accordance with this proposal, in June 1994 the Museum’s Royal Board of Trustees approved a “Requirement Plan for the Museo del Prado” that emphasised the need to increase its floor space. The report was presented to the Council of Ministers by the then Minister of Culture, Carmen Alborch, and received the agreement of the principal political parties in a unique Parliamentary Pact.

As a result, the first architectural competition was announced in March 1995. This competition explicitly stated that proposals should include the incorporation of the above-mentioned buildings into the Villanueva building. Despite the fact that more than 700 architects entered, and the subsequent selection by the jury of 10 projects to be entered into a second round, in September 1995 the competition was unanimously declared void although two entries were awarded second prizes.

1997-2001. The definitive guidelines for the extension. Moneo's project

In 1997, the Museum’s Royal Board of Trustees approved a report that established a Museological Plan which opted for the idea of expansion onto adjacent areas. It proposed that the Prado should expand over nearby and if possible contiguous buildings. This encouraged the idea of including the Jerónimos Cloister as well as the Casón and Salón de Reinos. As a result of this report, presented to the Council of Ministers by the then Minister of Culture, Esperanza Aguirre, and endorsed by that body, the Ministry reached an agreement with the Archbishopric of Madrid through which the Cloister would be available as part of the Museum’s expansion project.

Set out in an Agreement signed in July 1998 by the Ministry of Culture and the Archdiocese of Madrid, this decision allowed for the organisation of a new architectural competition, whose guidelines conformed to the report approved by the Museum’s Royal Board of Trustees and the agreement with the Church. On this occasion, the competition was by invitation and was limited to the ten finalists of the previous one. In 1998 Rafael Moneo’s project, entitled BUEN RETIRO, was unanimously selected, albeit with some modifications suggested by the jury, which comprised representatives of the Museum, the Government, the Regional Government of Madrid, the City Council and the Church.

Rafael Moneo’s project was approved by the Board of Trustees on 15 March 2000 and unanimously and definitively ratified by the jury one week later, on 21 March 2000.

2001-2007. The execution of the extension project. The Museo del Prado Campus

On 2 February 2001, following the necessary studies to evaluate the state of preservation of the Jerónimos Cloister and the preliminary work to consolidate its structural elements, work began on dismantling its arcading in order to restore and subsequently replace it as the starting-point for construction work on the extension project. Dismantling of the Cloister began in March and the restoration work, carried out under the supervision of the Instituto de Patrimonio Histórico Español (IPHE), took several months.

On 7 January 2002 the Boletín Oficial del Estado published the concession of the contract for the building work to the Unión Temporal de Empresas (UTE “El Prado”), comprising ACS and Constructora San José, awarded by the Gerencia de Infraestructuras y Equipamientos of the Ministry of Culture.

In November 2003 Parliament passed the Law governing the Museo del Prado with a large majority, resulting in the creation of a public body that would manage the Museum from that point onwards.

On 20 October 2004, the Royal Board of Trustees approved the Action Plan for this new body, deciding at this point on the creation of the Museum’s new Study Centre [the Escuela del Prado], which would be installed in the Casón del Buen Retiro. It also decided to incorporate the Museum’s 19th-century collections into the museological arrangement of the permanent collection in the Villanueva building. This decision marked the definitive acceptance of the plan for the Museo del Prado Campus.

On 22 July 2005, acting on the proposal of the then Minister of Culture, Camen Calvo, the Council of Ministers agreed to a one-off financial injection of 44.6 million Euros intended to guarantee the completion of work on the extension project.

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