The skin we inhabit

Antonio Arenas Mutua News

The Caja Mágica is the most modern tennis facility in the world and it has been hosting the Mutua Madrid Open since 2009.

“What motivates me is working on disappearance, on the limits between the presence and the absence of architecture”i.

The quote is a statement of intent from Dominique Perrault (Clermont-Ferrand, 1953), the French architect who designed the Caja Mágica sports complex and who, at just 36 years of age, won the competition to build Mitterrand’s National Library of France in Paris.

Situated on the banks of the Manzanares, the Caja Mágica is a landscape in itself, a beautifully neutral structure sculpted by the passing of the light. The first rays of sun caress its metallic skin, bringing it alive, while at night, that same steel shroud disappears to the point of becoming a huge lantern that bathes the darkened artificial landscape in light.

This sports complex offers plenty of talking points. We could get into metres squared, budgetary relevance or even its functional defects, but there is a time and place for that. Perhaps it would be more interesting to take a look at its origin through the words of its creator and attempt to decipher the raison d’etre of this iconic building.

Where exactly is the magic in Madrid’s Caja? “It’s a box of lights and light can come from outside and traverse the box through large metallic curtains, but it can also come from the opening of the roofs. It’s also an interior light. The movement of these roofs amplifies the lighting effect of the building. Magic goes hand in hand with surpriseii.

The mobile roofs are perhaps the most magical part of the construction. The main building that houses the stadiums has three retractable roofs that blur the boundary with the sky, they made it possible for the Mutua Madrid Open to be the first tournament in the world to have three covered stadiums in 2009. 10 editions have passed since then.

And it was a trendsetter: that same year Wimbledon enclosed its centre court. The Australian Open did the same with its third roof in 2015, followed by the US Open, which inaugurated its retractable roof in the imposing Arthur Ashe stadium with a match between Rafael Nadal and Andreas Seppi. In 2020 Roland Garros is expected to join the long list of great stadiums with roofs that were pioneered by Madrid.

«Building consists of constructing almost incomplete architecture, constructing projects that by definition are unfinished, given that we offer them to other people so that they may live in them and modify them naturallyiii.

Again, surprise, the unexpected. And maybe the magic of this building resides not only in the movement of its roofs, but in its capacity for transformation and adaptation. It is an expressly neutral building, which enables its guests to inhabit it and use it in different ways.

That is the Caja Mágica, an open structural space formed by materials such as polished concrete, stainless steel and the black aluminium frames that offer a landscape of reflections, a canvas on which to draw new lines. Perhaps the only chromatic allowance made are the drops of colour of the seats in the stadiums or the imposing acoustic curtains that separate the indoor courts from training and lend the game a red hue. Thus, the straight line traced by the entirety of the building further accentuates its status as a Cartesian canvas, a working surface on which to configure new and unexpected spaces.

“Architecture should react just as nature does: it should change with the seasons, transform according to the situation”iv

The fact that it is a living organism, a landscape building, is that which allows the user to take ownership of the space, to change it and modify it just as the elements of nature do. That is why the Caja Mágica strives to be a park, a concert, a festival, a fair and a home to geese, winter emptiness, congress and meeting point, but above all stadium and tennis.

Héctor Muñoz has a degree in Architecture from the University of Alcalá de Henares and won the first prize at the international ideas contest “Next Generation Europe” HOLCIM AWARDS held in Moscow in 2014 together with his DAT Pangea studio colleagues. His also designed some of the commercial spaces at the Mutua Madrid Open. 

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i, iii and iv Migayrou, F. (2001). Computational Architecture [a conversation with Dominique Perrault]. El Croquis. Dominique Perrault 1990-2001 The Violence of Neutral. 104, 6-17.

ii Pulido, N. (2009, 30 January). «La crisis en España se relaciona con una monocultura de la construcción». ABC.