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Master of Mudéjar

Rafael Manzano Martos, the 2010 Driehaus Prize winner, infuses Classical architecture with Spanish and Muslim inflections.

By Kim A. O'Connell

A lovely legend surrounds the Alcázar, a royal palace in Seville, Spain, that is surrounded by fragrant fruit trees. In the 11th century, a ruler named Al-Mutamid, a poet, married a woman who missed the snowy hill country of her birth. To please her, the romantic king planted the gardens with peach trees, which blanketed the ground with snowy blossoms each spring.

Today, the Alcázar remains one of the most stunning developments in all of Europe. A compound of fortresses dating from the ninth century, the Alcázar is the world's foremost example of Mudéjar architecture, a blend of Christian and Muslim building traditions. Gardens, ballrooms, courtyards, chapels, domed rooms and other spaces offer glimpses into the myriad influences that have affected the site – and all of Spain – for hundreds of years.

More recently, the architect responsible for the restoration and care of the Alcázar made an important discovery. While investigating a part of the compound known as the Casa de la Contratación (Trade Hall), the architect discovered the former residence of Al-Mutamid, which led to a full restoration and reconstruction of the long-demolished site. That architect, the 2010 winner of the University of Notre Dame's prestigious Richard H. Driehaus prize, was Rafael Manzano Martos.

The $200,000 prize is presented annually to an architect who espouses traditional building and is considered the highest recognition of Classicism in the modern world. Previous laureates include Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil, a specialist in Islamic architecture; Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andrés Duany of the Congress for the New Urbanism; and traditionalist Léon Krier. In joining this illustrious roster, Manzano, as he is known, brings his scholarship and use of the Mudéjar style to a wider audience. Manzano has designed hotels, houses, commercial buildings and other complexes throughout Spain. His work has expanded into other parts of the world as well, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia and one project in the United States.

"Rafael Manzano Martos discovered a love for architecture in his native southern Spain," said Michael Lykoudis, Francis and Kathleen Rooney Dean of Notre Dame's School of Architecture, in his announcement of the 2010 winner. The jury chose Manzano, Lykoudis stated, for "his skillful and inspirational ability to render Classical ideals in the local vernacular, blending a multitude of cultural influences into a cohesive whole that respects the past and informs the future."

In winning the Driehaus Prize, Manzano caps an architecture career that has spanned half a century. He has worn many hats – architect, planner, restorer, professor and archaeologist. The unifying thread, for Manzano, is a deeply rooted respect for tradition and beauty. "Concerning restoration," Manzano says (via an edited translation from his native Spanish), "in my opinion it is necessary to save the buildings' integrity and veracity as a document itself in history as well as its beauty. As an architect, I've always considered beauty as one of the important results of the intervention."

Classic Values
Born in Cádiz, Manzano studied design at the Architecture School of Madrid, earning his degree there in 1961 and a doctorate in 1963. After he finished his university work, Manzano joined the Service for the Defense of Spain's National Artistic Heritage Ministry. At the same time, he entered the Service for the Organization of Cities of National Artistic Interest, developing architecture in a variety of cities around the country. During this period, he also collaborated with the Arabian Studies School, where he first developed his interest in Arabic archaeology, history and typology.

Like other traditionalists of the last half-century, Manzano often had to find his inspiration and his knowledge outside the academy, which was so focused on contemporary architecture. "I was self-taught in the study of the architectural language of diverse periods of architectural history," he says, "which is necessary to understand deeply the internal laws that govern the architectural composition of their buildings, to allow for the new utilization of their forms."

From 1970 to 1991, Manzano served as the director-curator and governor of the Alcázar in Seville. Although it was in great need of repair, the Alcázar retained evidence of its many architectural styles and influences, including Mudéjar, Gothic, Romanesque and Neoclassical. During his tenure there, Manzano focused his attention on exploring, excavating, restoring and reconstructing the compound. In excavating the palace of Al-Mutamid, for example, Manzano discovered a variety of arched spaces, a cross-shaped yard, a pool and a central fountain. While doing the restoration and reconstruction, which included several beautiful and historic courtyards, he worked to retain a sense of unity for the entire complex, acknowledging the new construction through such subtle means as the type of brick and building materials used, rather than creating a dramatic departure aesthetically.

"Regarding new construction, I've always acted according to the landscape in which they had to be integrated, both urban and rural," Manzano says. "Even when talking about modern complexes…I consider it necessary to build the new works according to the existing compound so they don't cause any discordant effect."

Teaching has been an essential part of Manzano's long career as well. He began his teaching career as a lecturer at the Superior Technical School of Architecture in Madrid and was appointed chair of the school in 1965. Two years later, he moved to the Superior Technical School of Architecture in Seville, where he still serves on the faculty, worked with the Architecture School of Granada and led courses in Mexico, Rome and Naples. In the 1970s, Manzano was a member of the Royal Board of Trustees of La Alhambra and El Generalife in Granada, where he led the construction committee and advised on many restorations.

One of his most important projects archaeologically involved his work with Medina Azahara, an Arab development in Córdoba that had been entirely destroyed in a time of war around 1010. The site lay dormant until a modern excavation began in the 1910s. Still, to date only about 10 percent of the historic site has been restored, and surrounding development threatens the site. Manzano worked there for 10 years in the 1970s and 1980s, during which time he helped to restore several key areas, such as ceremonial courtyards lined with distinct striped horseshoe arches.

At the Medina Azahara, new walls were carried out in masonry with fragments of stone that had been excavated at the site, while the older sections remained all stone. "In this manner the old thing and the new thing could never be confused," Manzano says, "and at the same time it was the most economic material of all possible, and presented an identical color and acquired a similar patina to the old one."

For the Caja de Ahorros headquarters in Seville, Manzano restored a 16th-century Neoclassical structure, with its distinctive layers of stone arches set on marble columns in the courtyard. For this he created new complementary facades where historic ones were missing, while designing a new board room, offices, library, assembly room and working areas.

Manzano has also designed new construction projects – many residential – in Spain and elsewhere. He has built stately homes, including a house once owned by bullfighter Curro Rombero that now belongs to the singer Julio Iglesias; housing units in Seville, Granada and Madrid; a country club and resort in Cádiz; and a residential complex, hotel and spa in Málaga.

"An architect…must specialize in the use and knowledge of traditional architecture as well as to study deeply the historical period in which the building was integrated," says Manzano. "It's not valid but [common] to entrust these works to famous architects….It's said that they [historians] have collaborating with them to stand in for their ignorance, but there's a history document that only the architect can read: the building itself."

Beyond History
Manzano is, of course, a renowned expert on Mudéjar architecture. In the annual Driehaus lecture at Notre Dame in November, he expounded on the nature of the style. "Mudéjar art and architecture are prime examples of the uniqueness of Medieval Spain," Manzano said. "It is important to say that the Mudéjar style is not a style in the same sense that we refer to Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. These styles have a group of characteristics in common. These characteristics occur in a given time and in various countries. These styles emerge, evolve and slowly die out to give way to new styles."

Mudéjar, by contrast, is "beyond history," as Manzano says – influenced by and reflective of religious or secular trends over time but maintaining its essential aspects. First and foremost, Mudéjar architecture is characterized by the use of brick as the primary building material, with elaborate tiling and ornamental designs and patterns. In religious Mudéjar architecture, the stylistic fusion is most evident in the Roman and Gothic flourishes that are replicated in brick. Secular Mudéjar architecture, by contrast, is characterized by entirely Islamic forms and materials, Manzano says. It gives an Eastern inflection to the most western peninsula of the Mediterranean, providing an enlightening East-West dynamic.

Manzano believes that Mudéjar architecture is of enormous significance not only because of its history but also because of its inherently sustainable design for the warm climates of the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia and, as he says, "even America." Because of his extensive knowledge of Hispano-Arab architecture, Manzano has been commissioned to develop a hotel in Mosul, Iraq; a shopping complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; a manor house for an official in Bahrain; and a restoration plan in Testour, Tunisia. He has also worked on an Arab residence in California.

"I do not believe in the polemics [of East versus West, Christian versus Muslim]; that is a thing of politicians and not of architects," he says. "I believe that if you are to know the Eastern cultures better in the West, we should place more value on what unites us rather than what separates us."

Going forward, Manzano plans to continue working with traditional thinkers and New Urbanists, teaching in the academy, and restoring buildings in his native Spain and elsewhere. He remains optimistic about the future, despite the prevalence of what he calls a "vulgar" form of modern and contemporary architecture.

"When architecture loses [context], with vulgarity and repetitive forms that are not contributing at all to the cities' interest, there's always a flashback to classic values," Manzano says. "This allows the architect to face the eternal laws of beauty inherited from the ancient world. This language has been spoken at every century, with different accents, with a new prosody. This has to be applied to our century too…applied to the specific functions of every building, to the new linguistics imposed on our times." TB

 

 

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