These very distinctive 23-storey towers on the eastern edge of Madrid are the first architectural monuments that will be seen if arriving by road from the airport. Rising 71 meters from the Avenida de América, the ‘Torres Blancas’ are an extraordinary fusion of the Brutalist and Organic styles of the 1950s to 1970s. White marble dust was mixed to the concrete during construction, hence the name ‘White Towers’, but now they are an austere-looking grey, like something from a science-fiction movie.
The design was conceived in 1961 by the most influential Spanish architect of the second half of the 20th century, Francisco Javier Saenz de Oiza. Completed in 1968, they are Brutalist in their imposing concrete presence yet Organic in their very tree-like aspect. The towers have a cylindrical appearance and the circular balconies and apartments seemingly grow from the ‘trunk’ like mushrooms.
The towers are a clear diversion from the neo-classical architecture preferred by Spain’s Francoist dictatorship (1939-1975). Even the inside is no less peculiar. Entering the lobby is like entering Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit-hole. Large circular indentations from the structures above invade the space like giant cheese rounds. The staircase, unsurprisingly, spirals up all the way to the roof, a space that comprises a communal living area with gardens and a pool.
Metro – Cartagena (line 7) / Avenida de América (line 6)
Given the rather grandiose title of the Gate of Europe, the KIO Towers are not the highest in the city, but they are perhaps the most unmissable. Situated at the northern end of the Paseo de Castellana and slanting together at an angle of 15 degrees, these 115m high towers are credited with being the first inclined skyscrapers in the world. The existence of a major underground metro station (Plaza de Castilla) meant that traditional skyscrapers couldn’t be built directly alongside the main avenue. The solution was to build them further out, then lean them in!
Designed by American architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee, the towers were first commissioned by the Kuwait Investment Office. They were later sold to Spanish banking giant, Bankia, whose headquarters are still there today.
Perhaps motivated by the fact that Madrid used to be a walled city and was therefore comprised of many gates, Johnson and Burgee took the ‘gate’ concept and gave it a very postmodern twist. While the towers’s inclination was borne more out of practicality than design, the dark glass façade and the stainless steel skeleton implanted with thin red lines is very deliberately postmodern. Indeed, it makes the towers look like something out of a mid-1990s video game.
Metro: Plaza Castilla (Lines 1, 9 and 10)