Brightening up the Prado

November 14, 2007

I was very lucky to take a school trip to Spain when I was 15... I wish that I could have taken it a bit later (even 18) when I had a bit more of an architectural background. Although I certainly appreciated visiting sites like la Alhambra, I've got to believe that I could only appreciate them more now.

Thinking back to my trip, one of the stops that always stuck in my head was the experience of the Prado. I've always loved visiting museums, probably because my parents took me into Boston all the time to check out all that the city had to offer. For me, visiting a museum has always been equally defined by the art (or history or science) as the space. But, the Prado was one exception. Even then, with little or no architectural education, I could understand that this museum was in desperate need of a makeover.

Being led through the maze of the Prado, through dark and dingy halls to equally dark and dingy exhibit spaces, I couldn't believe that such wonderful pieces of artwork were kept in such a miserable setting. While you could certainly argue that this sad museum provided a backdrop for the artwork that receded from rather than competed with the artwork, this would be giving it more credit than it deserved. Even to my juvenile eye, it was obvious that the Prado needed some help.

And help it got. Rafael Moneo recently completed an addition (and refurbishment) to the existing Prado, giving the museum a space worthy of holding its prized possessions. Providing a simple box structure, the new building succeeds in providing the clean backdrop for the artwork that the old Prado couldn't quite manage to do. And importantly, Moneo has provided the much needed light without harming the artwork. The space is clearly much improved and now worthy of the Prado's masterpieces. I only hope that I'll soon be able to visit and compare the new structure to my memories of the old one.

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