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A Place in the Sun by Simone Knauss | 5th July, 2015 | Travel

Modern architecture, youthful design and relaxed waterfront lifestyles – times have changed the city of Madrid, which had a hard time competing with Barcelona. A vibrant art and design scene is growing in the Spanish capital, presenting new green spaces along the river.

The sun is rising in the heart of Madrid. At the center of the Spanish capital is the “Puerta del Sol” or “sun gate.” It is the famous point of origin for all the major roads in Spain, which radiate out from it like connecting beams of sunlight. However, it was not the sun that enticed Marre Moerel away from New York to Madrid – it was a yearning. “I was looking for something completely new, for a fresh source of inspiration and the opportunity to see life from a different perspective,” says the designer, who was born in the Netherlands and sports bleached, platinum blond braids. “And because I didn’t know Madrid at all, I thought that I would probably find these things there.”

Her hunch was right. For almost 13 years, the internationally renowned designer has been living and working in her small studio in the Malasaña neighborhood. And to this day, the ideas just keep coming. Marre Moerel has developed a particular penchant for peculiar porcelain items. Inspired by the lavish shop window display of the neighboring butcher shop, she took casts of pigs’ feet, bull’s testicles, cow’s hearts and other animal organs. The result: her “Food on the Table” crockery. Somewhat less eccentric, but also inspired by Spanish food, are Moerel’s “Hilo” vases, which are shaped to resemble Spanish Baroque water jugs. The vases are adorned with long ceramic strings, which are made with the aid of a simple pastry bag and are reminiscent of “churros,” traditional Spanish deep-fried pastries. “Madrid is a modern, cosmopolitan city, which has preserved its idiosyncrasies and Spanish traditions. To this day, I find that fascinating,” says the designer. She admits, however, that she is sometimes homesick for New York and really feels like having a decent burger. Luckily, she can satisfy both of these desires at the “Home Burger Bar” located in the Chamartín neighborhood. The bar’s interior was designed by Moerel herself. It is located on the Paseo de la Castellana, the famous avenue that runs through the city. On either side of the “Paseo” are the tilting twin towers designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burge, which form the “Puerta de Europa.” Originally built as modern symbols of a new beginning during the construction boom of the 1990s, the towers and their slanted design have come to represent the precarious situation of the Spanish economy since the real estate bubble burst in 2008.

Crisis? What crisis?” you feel like asking, when you walk through the city these days. This is because there are no obvious signs of it – at least not at first glance. The streets are bustling with people, the street cafes and shops are as crowded as ever. At night people eat, drink and dance in the clubs, restaurants and rooftop bars as though nothing had ever happened. Little wonder: Madrilenians are masters at celebrating life with all its ups and downs, even though unemployment remains high, numerous bars and shops had to close and many apartments are vacant. So the shine of yesteryear has come off –or at least it is considerably diminished – but in the end we still have our creativity! Where prosperity fades, there is room for something new to evolve. That is how many of Marre Moerel’s younger colleagues see it, too. So of late, they have been deserting the trendy (but expensive) city of Barcelona in favor of Madrid. “Madrilenians are approachable and friendly. I immediately felt at home here,” says Jorge Penadés from Málaga, who despite having studied in Barcelona, decided to open a design studio in the capital. Barcelona is still very trendy, he adds, but there are also many social conventions to observe when living there as a “hipster.” In Madrid, on the other hand, everything is much more relaxed, he says.

Here, you can simply live how and where you like: in the elegant Salamanca neighborhood with its expensive stores, or around the Calle de Serrano avenue north of Retiro Park. Others – like Marre Moerel, for example – prefer the alternative Malasaña neighborhood, or La Latina with its picturesque, narrow old streets, in which the famous “El Rastro” flea market takes place every Sunday. As the city does not have one single creative hub, the many artists, designers and architects from around the world are scattered all over the city. “Madrid sometimes seems like a village to me,” says Marina Casal, laughing. “Almost all the creatives know each other.” Together with her boyfriend Andrés Gallardo, the graphic and textile designer came to Madrid to study. Since 2011, both of them have been designing lavish jewelry made of porcelain, metal and leather for their label Andrésgallardo. What do they find most attractive about “their” city? “The contrasts! On the one hand, there are fantastic museums like the Prado and the Reina Sofia, but at the same time there is a large underground and street art scene, which is exhibited at the ‘Fresh Gallery’ in Serrano, for example.”

Museums and galleries are not, however, the only things that Madrid has to offer in terms of art and culture. The annual ARCOmadrid, which is said to be the most well attended art fair in the world, took place in February. And almost concurrently, the “Just Mad Emerging Art Fair” provided a platform for up-and-coming artists. Furthermore, for the last few years, there has also been the “Matadero Madrid,” a cultural center in a former abattoir located in the Arganzuela district. The “Matadero” hosts temporary exhibitions and presents concerts and plays, and is absolutely worth a visit, not least because of its architecture. Álvaro Catalán de Ocón is a regular visitor to the center. The Madrid-born industrial designer returned to his hometown after 14 years in Milan, London and Barcelona. “I am excited about the changes which have taken place, and which are not just cultural. The city is much greener than before!” He is referring to the gigantic expanse of parkland called “Madrid Río,” which has only been in existence since 2011 and on whose edge the Matadero is located.

The orbital, multilane M-30 freeway used to wind its way along the banks of the Manzanares River, spoiling them in the process. Today, it runs underground and in its place you now come upon stunningly designed green spaces, old and new bridges, a number of playgrounds and sports fields, countless cafes, many trees – and bicycles. Since the advent of the crisis with its skyrocketing bus and subway ticket prices, cycling – which used to be frowned upon as a sign of poverty – has become ever more popular among Madrilenians. Outside the car-free parks, however, cycling remains a perilous endeavor. That is why fashion designer Baruc Corazón prefers going places on foot. “My favorite spot in Madrid is the Plaza de Oriente with its trees and neatly trimmed hedges. I used to go for walks there with my parents as a child. And the views of the royal palace and the Sierra de Madrid are stunning every time.” As is the sun, setting behind the trees in Casa de Campo park. sk

IssueGG Magazine 03/15
City/CountryMadrid/ Spain