The Museum’s Headquarters
In addition to the importance of the Collection, the Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga is characterised by the significance of the architectural ensemble that houses it. The result is an exemplary synthesis of idioms in which the historic structures, restored to create the new museum, coexist with the specially designed new ones. The Museum can thus be seen as a unified and harmonious whole in which each element has its own distinct personality.
In parallel to this process, the work carried out on the creation of the Museum (undertaken by the firm of architects rg+asociados and entirely funded by the City Council of Malaga) also highlighted the area of the city in which it is located, which is of outstanding importance with regard to 16th-century Renaissance architecture in Malaga, built over the Roman city within the old Muslim quarter. The characteristics of the building’s architecture encourage both an attentive contemplation of its interior, particularly the works of art displayed in the galleries, as well as an outward gaze, given that the Museum offers previously inaccessible views over the historic centre of Malaga: new viewpoints from which to see the city and the towers of its nearby churches and which have now become part of the Museum’s space.
Of the various historical structures that make up the Museum as a whole, the most important one is the Palacio de Villalón, previously known as the Palacio Mosquera. Dating from the mid-16th-century, it is located on Calle Compañía next to the Plaza de la Constitución in Malaga. The significant alterations that the building has undergone over its long history were intended to adapt it to new uses and to the taste of each historical period (the most traumatic being the modifications carried out in the 1960s when attempts to make it conform to a more modern aesthetic concealed many of the building’s historical elements) meant that various procedures were required in the recent restoration in order to recover the spatial harmony that originally characterised the palace. On the basis of the preliminary studies undertaken, it was decided to restore the palace by returning it to its original layout. This involved reinstating the interior courtyard by rebuilding the lost west façade; replacing the concealed or dismantled arcading with its marble columns; rebuilding the gallery on the first floor on the basis of the remains that were discovered or through reference to similar buildings of the period; restoring the interior doorway of Renaissance style that was rediscovered in the gallery on the ground floor; restoring the projecting room over the staircase and the original façades, and finally reconstructing the original entrance doorway, which is also Renaissance in date.
This newly restored Renaissance doorway with its oxidised steel doors marks the entrance to the palace, which is itself notable for its elaborate carved wooden ceilings and the tracery elements in its principal rooms. The palace is arranged over two floors around a central courtyard with arcaded, columned galleries and a second courtyard that includes part of an old fortified wall. This element acts as the base for the tower of the church of the Santo Cristo de la Salud, which is now visually integrated into the Museum following the removal of buildings that concealed it from view. Also restored were a small tower, the façade of which had been hidden for more than a century by the adjoining building, and a rare architectural element in the form of a first floor room that acts as a link between two buildings and which was typical of medieval architecture. The restoration of this element emphasised its historical importance and it now functions as a covering element for the street below. In addition, it creates an articulating element between the Museum’s exhibition spaces and its administrative and service areas.
The new buildings that adjoin the palace deploy a sober, restrained contemporary idiom. Designed to house the exhibition galleries, their crisp, volumetric forms are structured into three rooms that house the Permanent Collection and two more for temporary exhibitions. The successful combination of restored, historic buildings and newly built ones has been emphasised through the careful choice of materials, the use of filtered light to create an atmospheric effect, and the quest for harmony and tranquillity in the ordering of the interior spaces.
Among the restored historical structures is a unique example of Malaga’s Baroque architecture, now adjoining the new buildings. This is the headquarters of the Fundación Palacio Villalón, which is responsible for the overall management of the Museum. It will also house the Old Masters gallery, located on the first floor.
However, this new addition to the history of Malaga in the form of the Carmen Thyssen Málaga Museum goes beyond the restoration of the above-mentioned buildings and extends back to the very origins of the city. In the interconnecting basements of the exhibition galleries a 3rd-century AD Roman site was discovered which had clearly been used for the fish salting trade in Malaga and for other domestic purposes. The archaeological remains included a nymphaeum with its original Roman wall paintings as well as vestiges of a necropolis, probably from the Byzantine era.
Overall, the Museum has a surface area of 7,147 square metres, of which 5,185 are for display purposes, divided between the galleries for the Permanent Collection (three, located on the ground, first and second floors) and the temporary exhibition gallery. In addition, 612 square metres are occupied by the Fundación Palacio Villalón, and 1,350 square metres are for administrative use and for the Museum’s various services and facilities, including the educational space, the lecture hall/auditorium and the shop. Finally, there is the Old Masters gallery of the Permanent Collection, located on the first floor of the original Palacio de Villalón.
The Museum can thus be described as responding to various different, conceptual and formal issues: firstly, to the decision to emphasise the importance of the palace itself, which has acquired the status of a museum in its own right; secondly, to the dialogue that has been established between the new spaces that will house the works of art and those designed for administrative purposes; and finally, to the fact that the unique views and perspectives that present themselves during a visit to the Museum open up the history of Malaga itself to the visitor, while the incorporation of the archaeological discoveries into the building give access to the very origins of the city.
The historical, aesthetic and symbolic importance of the past thus presents itself in the Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga as an expression of respect towards the centuries of Malaga’s history, while also looking to the future in the sense of the opportunities for growth and development that this new landmark in the city’s cultural patrimony implies.