Photographer Roberto Conte (Italy, 40 years old) has a special fondness for portraying abandoned buildings and concrete masses created during Soviet modernism. Are you tired of the inexhaustible classical beauty of your country? “It is not that I reject it, as Marinetti’s futurism did. It just makes me extremely curious to find alternatives to what is considered standard beauty, ”he says from Milan. Although he recognizes in Madrid a good part of that architecture that defines the cities near the Mediterranean, what attracted him to it was precisely what for the majority taste is considered pure ugliness: brutalism. This movement, more focused in its day on the ethics of socialist ideology than on reinforcing the cult of aesthetics, occupied the landscape of the city from the mid-1960s.
Conte, who is also a tireless traveler, unites these three passions in photographic series. In 2020 he had the possibility of arriving in Madrid despite the sanitary restrictions during the month of July, to face in person and provide a different look at the concrete masses that he had admired so much in books and websites and that people often of the city does not pay attention. The Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain in Ciudad Universitaria, the Torre de Valencia that overlooks the Retiro Park and the Fernando Higueras building in San Bernardo are some of the unexpected models of a photo essay that you share on your social networks.
“With these photographs I also capture my surprise when discovering new aspects in architecture. Regardless of where you place these buildings within the binomial beautiful or uglyThey are creations that have something interesting to tell ”, defends the Italian. What he describes in the texts that accompany his selection of images is how Spanish brutalism, which reached the streets a decade later than in the rest of Europe due to Franco’s isolation, was once connected to a different social class than that of brutalism in other countries. “When he arrived in Spain, the idea reigned that concrete was synonymous with modernity and progress. While in the United Kingdom or Germany it is more common to associate it with social protection houses, in Spain it is usually found in churches, institutional headquarters and luxury apartments, such as the Princesa Building ”, he points out after his research.
Being already an admirer and connoisseur of these buildings, also through web tools such as Google Earth, the photographer needed less than a week to complete the journey through Madrid’s brutalism, studying what were the best hours of light in the city during those days. summer, remember.
Conte declares himself a follower of the work of the late architect Miguel Fisac, who has been talked about a lot in recent months for the controversial intervention of the street art collective Boa Mistura on his building in the Alhóndiga de Getafe. “Without having been able to study all his work in the region – which is a good reason to pay another visit – I feel that Fisac still needs to be recognized in Madrid as an authority on architectural matters. It does not get the admiration it deserves. It shows that each of its buildings receive a different treatment. The demolition of La Pagoda in 1999 is an absolute disgrace on several levels. The Alhóndiga de Getafe is a more complex matter, which goes beyond the typical political exploitation of an artistic creation. I support the idea of creating urban art festivals supported by public institutions, because their interventions are a way to improve the urban environment. But I do not consider that these constructions can be used as blank canvas for other artists to express their creativity on them. In my opinion, they are valuable as they are and that is how we must preserve them ”, he defends.
For this reason, the Italian has collaborated for a long time with the digital platform #SOSbrutalism, which seeks to draw attention to the legacy of this architectural aspect, allowing some of its photographs to form part of its extensive database. When asked about his favorite example of Madrid brutalism after his photographic essay, Conte cannot help but mention the famous White Towers created by Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza. “Its dimensions are impressive. It is very difficult to find something similar, with its powerful progression of interlocking cylindrical elements, a possible reference to Japanese metabolism, and its rounded balconies ”, he marveled.