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Star architect Norman Foster picked for Prado extension

British architecture superstar Norman Foster has been selected to renovate a 17th century building for an extension to Madrid's famous Prado museum, it said Thursday.

Star architect Norman Foster picked for Prado extension
Norman Foster will design the new extension. Photo: AFP

Foster in a joint project with Spain's Carlos Rubio will refurbish the Hall of Realms, not far from the main museum in the centre of the Spanish capital. 

The project is estimated to cost around €30 million ($32 million).

In a statement, the museum said Foster and Rubio's proposal “respects and values what is already there, adjusting it to the necessities of our times.”    

The Hall of Realms is one of the only remaining buildings from the Buen Retiro Palace, commissioned by Spain's King Felipe IV as a second residence, and pre-dates the Prado Museum itself which opened in 1819.

Once Spain's Army Museum, the Prado acquired the building last year with the aim of increasing its exhibition space.  

Foster and Rubio's firms plan to open up the southern facade, creating a giant atrium that will give the impression that the building is semi-open, while keeping its original balconies.

“A new roof will harvest energy from integrated solar cells, give natural light to the galleries below and cantilever as a shade to protect the southern facade,” Foster and Partners said in a statement.

Foster, who led the bidding team, said he was “honoured” to “contribute to this next phase of the expansion of the Prado.”  

The 81-year-old architect has worked all around the world.    

His firm built London's Millennium Bridge, a winery on France's premium Chateau Margaux estate, airports in Panama, Jordan and Hong Kong, and remodelled the Camp Niu stadium, home to Spain's DC Barcelona football club.  

Rubio Architectural, meanwhile, was founded in 2014 by Carlos Rubio and is working on projects mainly in Spain, but also in Russia and Saudi Arabia. 

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MADRID

Spain’s scrap cathedral: A monk’s 60-year self-build labour of faith and devotion

About 20 km east of Madrid, in the small town of Mejorada del Campo, stands a building that testifies to a former monk's lifetime of devotion to the Catholic faith. Paul Burge explores the Don Justo Cathedral, a religious edifice like no other.

Spain's scrap cathedral: A monk's 60-year self-build labour of faith and devotion
Don Justo's Cathedral in Mejorada del Campo, Madrid. Photos: Paul Burge

The structure has been built by 95-year-old former monk, Don Justo Gallego Martinez, using nothing but recycled, scavenged and donated materials giving the building chaotic, eclectic and perplexing, if not impressive style.


Don Justo pictured here at the age of 73 in August 1999. Archive photo: AFP

Visitors are free to explore, stepping over bags of cement, buckets and tools which are strewn across the two-floor monument. Downstairs there is a shrine to Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Chillingly Don Justo has already also dug his own grave in the basement, where he will finally be laid to rest at the heart of his labour of faith and devotion.

Don Justo, as he is known, is 95 years old. The cathedral still needs at least ten years' work, years that its creator simply doesn’t have. Yet, such is his devotion that he still works on its construction every day, except on Sundays of course. You may catch a glimpse of him in his dusty blue overalls, white shirt and trademark red beret. But as the notices pinned to the wall advise, he is not open to speaking to members of the public.

What inspired Don Justo to build it?

After eight years in a Trappist order at Soria‘s Santa Maria de la Huerta monastery, Don Justo Gallego Martinez was ordered to leave, for fear of infecting the other monks with tuberculosis that he had been diagnosed with.

When his mother died in 1963 and bequeathed to him a large plot of land, including an olive grove in the center of the town, Gallego had an idea. If he would never again be allowed to enter a Catholic church as an ordained member of the faith, then he would express his devotion in a magnificent way. He would build his own church. In fact he would build his own Cathedral from scratch and make a shrine to “Our Lady of the Pillar”, or Nuestra Señora del Pilar.

The future of the cathedral

Set amongst monotonous 1960s apartment blocks, the frame of the huge structure, with its 50-meter-tall dome modeled on St. Peter’s in Rome, towers over the town of Mejorada del Campo. Like the cathedrals of old, it will not reach completion during Don Justo’s lifetime.

What will happen to the building after Gallego’s death remains an open question and its future is uncertain. No one has yet stepped up to take over the project, nor is his cathedral recognized by the Catholic Church. What is more, Don Justo never applied for planning permission to build the cathedral and the structure does not conform to any building regulations.

There are rumous that it could be pulled down after Don Justo passes away but there is a concerted campaign to preserve it.

How to get there

Catedral de Justo is located in Mejorada del Campo, a small town just 20km from Madrid. To get there, there are two public buses from the centre: Avenida de América (line 282) and Conde de Casal (line 341). 

The bus stop in Mejorada del Campo is called Calle de Arquitecto Antoni Gaudí and is located right in front of the cathedral. However, going by car is a better option, so you can continue your day-trip to Alcalá de Heneres, Cervantes’ hometown, which is about half an hour away.

Listen to the When in Spain podcast episode for an audio tour around the cathedral with Paul Burge. HERE

Paul Burge is a former BBC journalist who moved from Oxford, UK to Madrid in 2013 where he now hosts the highly entertaining When in Spain a weekly podcast show about life in Madrid and beyond.  Follow Paul's observations and advice about living in Spain on FacebookInstagram, Twitter and his new YouTube channel.

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