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Red Bull Music Academy, Langarita Navarro, Spain

Winner of the ar+d Awards for Emerging Architecture this nomadic academy takes over a warehouse in Madrid

Japan’s devastating earthquake in March of last year forced the cancellation of the Red Bull Music Academy, scheduled to open that same month in Tokyo. The Academy is an annual music festival, with workshops and concerts, that brings together 60 young musicians, DJs and producers from around the world selected from some 6,000 applicants.

Red Bull decided to reschedule the event for Madrid in October. With the cooperation of the municipal government, they found a home in the Matadero, a new cultural centre that is taking shape in the city’s former slaughterhouses, a complex of masonry-clad industrial sheds built by municipal architect Luis Bellido between 1907 and 1926. The site for the Academy was a derelict building with dirt floors and unglazed windows, built as a holding pen for pigs and unused for decades.

Red Bull Music Academy Madrid 1

Single room cabins wrapped in plywood skins contain music workshops and offices. These are arranged along the edges of the structure’s central ‘naves’

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Madrid architects María Langarita and Victor Navarro, both 33, were asked to prepare the 5,000 square metre space for the Academy in less than five months. The couple had won second place in a competition to transform the structure into a contemporary art centre – although the winning scheme was never realised – and they had rehabilitated the Matadero’s water tower; with the short timetable, a new competition was out of the question.

Three factors conditioned their design: Red Bull’s exacting acoustical requirements; the short construction timetable – spanning the month of August when businesses shut down – which meant that all materials had to be basic and readily available; and the ephemeral nature of the event, which meant that their intervention had to be temporary (following the festival, the Academy remains open as a local centre for three years).

To meet these demands, the architects decided ‘to make a city instead of a building’, in the words of María Langarita. They used many devices developed in previous projects to speed the design process, for a result that is surprisingly clean and sophisticated. Ten music workshops and Academy offices became one-room cabins, which they distributed along raised wooden walkways at the edges of the structure’s two high central ‘naves’. Under one nave, two larger circular pavilions house a recording studio, lecture hall and canteen.

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Red Bull Music Academy Madrid 2

The architects describe the project as working with the ‘captive energies’ of the existing building

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There are open spaces for concerts and social gatherings, surrounded by vegetation – potted trees and ground cover tiered in artificial berms – as well as hidden corners for private time. The architects secured the building’s openings with chicken wire, and consolidated the earthen floors, converting the structure into a kind of giant shading device. The result is something like a Club Med version of a village in the bush.

The exteriors of the workshop cabins are finished in 20-millimetre plywood sheets – their relatively large mass helps absorb sound. The thick double glazing of the windows is framed directly into the light-gauge balloon framing to minimise breaks in the acoustic barrier. Right angles mix with 120 degree angles to break up sound waves, while parallel walls, which promote easy sound transmission, are avoided between adjacent cabins. To absorb vibrations, the architects raised the cabins off the ground on trusses assembled from metal studs.

Skylights – glass laid over the stud framing – bring in natural light from the clerestory windows of the naves, supplemented by cheap drafting lamps. Electrical conduit is mounted over the plywood and painted red. Each cabin has a fan coil unit, which uses hot and cold water from the Matadero’s central plant.

Workshops are painted in a variety of intense colours inside to distinguish them in the Academy films and photos. The motley assortment of furniture includes spindly Acapulco chairs in a variety of phosphorescent colours, custom-made by craftsman Margarito Oscar Cano and shipped from Mexico.

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Red Bull Music Academy Madrid 3

The cluster of cabins creates intimate enclaves. Furniture includes spindly Acapulco chairs in fluorescent hues custom-made by craftsman Margarito Oscar Cano and shipped from Mexico

To meet the greater sound absorption required for the pavilion housing the lecture hall, canteen and a radio studio, the architects built its walls of sandbags, using a dark felt bag, naturally-degradable, that was developed for highway embankments. The large-span roof is suspended on cables from the trusses of the nave. Irregular faceted domes (to break up sound) are finished in the vividly-patterned fabrics traditionally used for window awnings in Madrid. Flat sections of the roof are filled with translucent polycarbonate sheets.

The recording studio required even greater mass for its walls; here the architects built thick sandbag walls with wire-fence reinforcing and climbing ivy, creating a bunker-like cave (normally recording studios are embedded in poured concrete).The architects’ acceptance of the nearly ruined state of the existing building and the temporary nature of their own intervention forms part of a considered design philosophy. Victor Navarro explains,

‘We’ve been educated to see architecture as a unitary object, coherent in itself. But architecture can also be understood in terms of time. We’ve worked a lot with existing buildings, and we’ve come to realise that it’s not just a question of preserving a historic patrimony. We’re working with the captive energies in every object. Sometimes we work with concrete and fabrics in the same building. They have different time spans. The design is not a unitary block that ages uniformly, it is made up of layers that move like mechanical belts at different speeds.’

María Navarro summarises, ‘Buildings are like ships that travel in time, with certain technologies from the past, and you decide if you are going to send those technologies again into the future or not.’  In the case of the Matadero, their project promises to quietly disappear, like the village of a nomadic tribe in the underbrush, while sending the naves onward towards a more durable reincarnation.

Red Bull Music Academy Madrid 4

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