Herzog & de Meuron

Madrid is embarking on a mammoth infrastructure project, where six kilometres of the city’s innermost motorway are to be moved underground along the stretch where the road runs on both sides of the River Manzanares. The area thus reclaimed for urban life is to be redesigned as an active park.

A Park Emerges: The Parque Manzanares

Madrid is not a city we associate with nature. It was not founded on a major river, a lake or a seacoast, and no large park conveying a sense of identity was ever planned as part of the city. “Operation Manzanares” is making it possible for the city to finally acquire a central green space. It is as though the body of the city were being opened up and given space to think and breathe. We see the Parque Manzanares as part of a greater system of natural spaces, it is the urban section of a long green space linking two great areas with each other. They are the Sierra de Guadarrama range in the north and the Tajo river valley in the south. The long-term project envisions transforming the full length of the former M30 motorway into an area with parkland and public facilities. This would result in a green belt for Madrid, a circular park inscribed in the radial structure that embraces the city.

So the question is what sort of a park should be created there? Linking the new park to the natural spaces outside the city is reminiscent of the English Garden in Munich although the Munich garden as well as a romantic garden landscape like Hyde Park in London or Central Park in New York would not make sense here. But Central Park does interest us inasmuch as it reveals Manhattan’s rocky subsoil. Similarly, the Terciario Diétrico de la Fosa del Tajo, Madrid’s enormous underground reservoir, will inspire the design and character of the newly emerging “Parque Manzanares” and also supply it with water. The city of Madrid sits like a gigantic fortress on an enormous reservoir that it never actually sees. Yet this body of water gave the city its name. “Madrid” comes from Early Latin and derives from the term matrix, describing a dense network of streams in the region, which now all run mostly underground.

The Rio Manzanares will flow through the entire Park. As the only constant element in the sequential, rhythmical park design, it will interweave existing elements like the Parque Arganzuela or the abattoirs now used as a cultural centre, with some completely new interventions. The new sinoid character of the river replaces the technocratic, functionalist form it acquired in the mid-20th century. The artificial nature of this urbanized stretch of river is a paradigm for Operation Manzanares as a whole and reflects the incredible changes and countless transformations this fragment of river has undergone due to the growth of the city.

The First Step: El Camino de las Flores

The first intervention we propose is monumental and modest at the same time. It will immediately appeal to all Madrileños, the people of Madrid, and can be realised at once, within the next few months in fact; it is a pedestrian walkway covered with flowers. It starts by the Plaza de la Almería, between the Palacio Real and the Cathedral, the place where the city originated, where the Arabs had already built their Alcazar. It is still one of the most important squares in Madrid, and visiting it is a must for the entire Spanish and, indeed, Iberoamerican population. The Camino de las Flores links the royal terrace with the former hunting grounds, the tourist area with the Madrileños’ amusement park. Though a minor intervention, the Camino could become a precursor and symbol of the entire Operation Manzanares, because it can be implemented so quickly and is so prominently located.

A Lake: La Boca

The Estadio Vicente Calderón, which is scheduled for demolition, is currently located in the centre of the park at the sharpest bend in the river. Here we propose creating a lake, which we call La Boca. It is the outlet of the enormous underground reservoir, the Fosa Tectónica del Río Tajo, which lies 300 m below the city. To compliment and activate La Boca we propose an inner city resort which would contain hotels, spas and the kind of tourist facilities that now have such an enormous influence on global inter-city competition. La Boca, proposed as a recreational area for local water-sport clubs, open-air swimming, and such, ties in with the tradition of the Estanque del Retiro, the pond where people go rowing on Sundays. In conjunction with the adjoining parkland, it will undoubtedly become one of the most popular meeting places for Madrileños. La Boca is also the largest open space in the Park, where both sides of the city drop steeply. It recreates the historic view from San Isidro over the river to the Royal Palace and the Cathedral – the view painted by Goya in the XVIII century. Throughout the city, and in specifically selected sites on both sides of the river, we propose a series of fountains, also fed by the Fosa Tectónica del Tajo, so that Operation Manzanares and the idea of water will reach out into all of Madrid.

A Bridge: El Arca

We are reactivating some of the existing bridges and proposing a new one that will substantially improve the connection between the more recent districts of the city to the south-west and “Old Madrid” on the east side of the river. One of these bridges, which we call El Arca, stands out from the rest, it is not simply a traffic route, but an emblematic structure that slows down the traffic, joined by a group of buildings. Crossing it will be an experience for both drivers and pedestrians. We emphasize this bridge because it links Madrid’s present main road and cultural mile – the Paseos de la Castellana, Recoletos, del Prado – with the Paseo de San Antonio, which is, we believe, the most important boulevard with the greatest development potential on the western side of the city. The idea of the bridge reflects the centralist tradition of Madrid as the capital city in which monuments are placed on the main roads out of town, including not only the Puente de Toledo or the Puente de Segovia, but also emblematic high rises like the most recent ones in the north of the city.

El Arca, demarcates a new cultural centre, we imagine halls for contemporary music, fringe theatres, clubs, contemporary art galleries, but also spaces for commercial cultural venues like cinemas, studios and sales rooms for fashion designers, advertisers and similar enterprises. We also propose areas for shopping, the most popular of all leisure activities, which is usually relegated to the outskirts. Apartments with spectacular views are also included, their sale helping to finance the cultural facilities. El Arca is an icon of today’s culture, Zeitkultur.

The bridge is also near the abattoir halls – the Matadero – which is to be converted into a cultural centre and not far from the districts that have, in recent years, attracted the most immigrants. This is significant because multi-ethnic districts are often the most culturally active entities in any city.

A New District

The Parque Manzanares with its lake and its new monuments will enhance the quality of the adjacent districts. Rows of houses that used to look out over a tangle of motorways will become prime sites with views over the park and central Madrid. The plots along the park will be exploited more intensively, allowing for the creation of new housing, especially for families who are increasingly tending to move to the outskirts or out of the city altogether. Part of the added value generated on these plots of land could help finance the park.

The creation of urgently needed green space though will go hand in hand with inner-city densification, thanks to intense development along the edges of the park. We also propose transforming the roads along the park by renaming them “Avenida Este” and “Avenida Oeste” in allusion to Central Park East and West. The bridges and these avenues generate a ladder-like structure above the river.

It would be possible to go so far as to establish a 22nd district, the “Distrito Manzanares”, to give the operation even greater political weight and ensure that it is not just understood as a landscaping project. Today the river, though relatively central to the city, is perceived as being peripheral. The Parque Manzanares would change this perception, creating a new centre for Madrid, lending the western districts greater weight and establishing a better connection with the historic centre.

Seen in a broader perspective, Operation Manzanares is a branding project for contemporary Madrid, which will finally acquire a long missing component: a substantial piece of nature whose insertion will reshape the river and its banks. The resulting provision of resort-like features along with the introduction of new emblematic leisure and cultural uses will attract even more visitors and people to work and live in the city.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2005




Municipality of Madrid
Architect Planning: Herzog & de Meuron, Basel, Switzerland
Specialist / Consulting
Hydrology Engineering: NB35 SL, Madrid, Spain
Hydrology Engineering: Surge Estudios Hidráulicos e Hidrológicos SL, Madrid, Spain


Herzog & de Meuron. “Concurso Internacional Madrid RĂ­o Manzanares.” In: Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.). “Arquitectura Viva Proyectos.” Vol. No. 11, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva, 09.2005. pp. 8-11.