Culture Thrives in a Former Madrid Slaughterhouse

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The center of life in Madrid has long focused on the grand boulevards of Salamanca, the winding historic streets around Plaza Mayor and the cool alleyways of Malasaña, Chueca and La Latína. But city planners have in recent years nudged Madrileños and tourists toward the outer barrios of the city through Madrid Rio, an ambitious project that moved the unsightly highway that rings the city underground and replaced it with a ribbon of parkland alongside the all but forgotten city river.

As they have done so, they have introduced tourists to the new attractions at Matadero Madrid, a sprawling former slaughterhouse that, six years ago, began morphing into a music, art, design and film center. In August, Madrid Rio's rehabilitation extended the park's pedestrian pathways to Matadero, an evolving complex where spaces continue to open steadily.

"Matadero became a place where high-culture Madrileños would go over the last few years," said Oyer Corazón, a board member of Matadero and a designer with the Hola Revolution advertising firm. "Now the numbers of visitors are really going to go up because they finally opened access to Matadero from Madrid Rio. And on weekends the Rio is packed with people, walking and on bicycles. Everything is open, and it is all free."

Matadero's imposing series of neo-Moorish structures and open squares -- built in 1911 as a center for butchery and a livestock market -- had fallen into disuse by late last century. Rather than tear it down, the city of Madrid chose to transform it into interconnected but distinct, and individually run, art centers, a handful of cafes, a cinema and an enormous, reclaimed pavilion that serves as the staging ground for rotating exhibitions and for concerts, often at the same time.

Since a soft opening in 2007, Matadero has added about a half-dozen new spaces and projects, doubling its original tenants. In October the newest and most dramatically overhauled buildings were inaugurated by Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia. Four former warehouses, now joined, are known as the Casa del Lector (Reader's House). A joint project of the Ayuntamiento de Madrid and the Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation and designed by the architect Antón Garcia-Abril, its mission is to offer a place where people come for engagement with the written word. In addition to a research center, it has programming that includes lectures, classes and exhibitions. The space itself is a marvel -- concrete catwalks seem to float above the glass classrooms; each internal space is marked by graphics cast from LED lights. The auditorium looks a bit as if you'll be weightless inside -- a tunnel of light.

That project comes a year after the debut of another futuristic space, Cineteca, a two-cinema theater (tickets 3.5 euros, $4.60 at $1.32 to the euro) and film archive devoted to documentaries that was designed by the architects Churtichaga + Quadra-Salcedo. To process your film experience Cineteca houses Cantina, a brick-walled coffee bar built in the old slaughterhouse boiler room, which features a soaring ceiling and a series of graduated steps to sit on (and a terrace for nice weather), and serves sandwiches, baked goods and great espresso.

Across the plaza from Cineteca, the energy drink company Red Bull turned a dramatic, barely sheltered structure into a series of high-tech music studio huts for a music festival in the summer of 2011. The state-of-the-art recording studio and nine plywood individual creativity pods are now given out in short stints to composers; a small stage for shows is open to the public -- as is another bar -- all of which are set into a mini botanical garden, with lush plants and dirt paths.

The first buildings to open, in 2007, have more than retained their relevance, and audience. One was Intermediae, a mixed-use hangout lounge with free Wi-Fi, a Ping-Pong table, tables for bloggers, plus seasonal art installations and a lecture space. A recent installation included pieces of Gen. Francisco Franco's former yacht, rusted and exposed. Another allowed visitors to shoot pieces of their own films.

Also open since 2007 is the Central de Diseño (Design Center),  a collaborative project between DIMAD (Association of Madrid Designers) and the Madrid city hall that last summer held a show, "Producto Fresco," devoted to modern Spanish design, and in the fall gave its space over to Tipomad Fest 2012, a global celebration of typography. After all, Mr. Corazón said, "Our mission from the city hall is to get people interested in design."

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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