“Speculative Architecture”, seminar at The Prado Museum on architecture for the art

The gallery and Camilo José Cela University collaborate in a seminar entitled ‘Speculative Architecture’.

The Prado Museum and the Camilo José Cela University signed last December in the cloister of the gallery an agreement to collaborate in a seminar entitled “Speculative Architecture”, from January to April of this year, will cover the history of museums and how these have offered through history a “mirror image of society and what each society thinks of itself”.


The Prado Museum

The academic initiative, to be held at the Center for the Study of Cason del Buen Retiro, is directed by the writer Felix de Azua and Luis Feduchi, director of the School of Architecture and Technology, at Camilo José Cela University. De Azua also will also offer for the third year in a row and at the same venue the seminar “The Thinking Eye” about the transformations in the way art is understood since Romanticism revolution.
“Speculative Archictecture” comes from a sentence of El Greco collected in a Vasari´s volume which belonged to the library of the Cretan painter: “Painting, for being so universal, it is speculative.” “Speculative in that mirror,” explains De Azua. “And if the painting is a mirror reflection of societies, of course the museums are so”.

Hence the seminar directors have wanted to draw a historical tour that starts in the cabinets of curiosities of the XVI century German and reaches the Guggenheim in Bilbao, “an example of an institution that reflects exactly the society and the time it was built for “says Feduchi.
For this trip, the seminar will feature the architects Rafael Moneo, Iñaki Abalos, David Leatherbarrow and Enrique Sobejano and art experts Francesco Dal Co (BigMat award 2015 Judge) and José Manuel Matilla.


Extract and programme from the organizers:

Following El Greco’s observation, “la Pintura por esser tan universal se aze speculativa” (“Painting, by dint of being so universal, becomes speculative” in Notes to Vasari), we propose studying some architectural monuments that, by their very nature, are specular of the state of society and “imitate” it. In parallel with religious temples, museums reflect, in their different historical contexts, an image of society, and what that society thinks of itself and of the place it occupies in the cosmos.

In origin, architecture involved the creation of a total work of art, and the elements that were eventually to separate from the architectural whole and evolve into painting, sculpture, music and even the arts of the spoken word, were part and parcel of the monumental building. There is no difference between architecture and sculpture in Aztec or Hindu temples. Medieval interiors were paintings. It was in those spaces that concerts and theater were performed. It is only in the modern age that the model was transformed, as each art form sought to define its own identity. It is from that moment on that museums were created for each of the individual arts. Museums then became reflections of the art they housed and concert halls and theaters took on a life of their own.

We can identify three different moments in the development of the speculative museum.

At source, we find the Wunderkabinett or Wunderkammer, as the first example of the secularization of collections of sacred relics. It was the beginning of the illustrated archive. It was superseded by royal collections and, as collecting spread among the wealthy, by aristocratic collections. The collection of royal treasures lead to the foundation of museums such as the Kunsthistorische in Vienna, the Louvre in Paris or the Prado in Madrid, each with its own characteristics, when they opened their doors to the public after the Napoleonic Wars. National museums displayed the nation’s heritage in ancient aristocratic palaces as if it were a proletarian conquest. The art contained therein ceased to be a collection and became the property of the nation.


Kunsthistorische in Vienna

Kunsthistorische in Vienna


In a second phase, art identified itself with avant-garde movements, and museums were transformed accordingly. That was the origin, for example of New York’s MOMA, which was conceived from the outset as a mirror of modern art. The museum now “explains” the avant-garde and its related movements and is pedagogical and democratic in nature. The building mimics its contents.


Ⓒ Tim Hursley

MOMA NYⒸ Tim Hursley


With postmodernism came the latest transformation of the museum. It can take several forms: art as entertainment for the masses, in spectacular surroundings, such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao; a change in historical discourse as in Gae Aulenti’s Musée d’Orsay, which abandons the historical approach in favour of the thematic; or in uncritical exhibitions of undirected productions as in the Tate Modern. Each museum is a unique creation and, at times, it is the museum itself that is the true representation of contemporary art, as in Zumthor’s Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria.


Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria ©-Flickr-User-mightymightymatze

Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria ©-Flickr-User-mightymightymatze


The challenge today is to come up with a museum that is speculative of conceptual, immaterial art or, as Danto put it, of “art after the end of art”.



Félix de Azúa was born in Barcelona in 1944. A Doctor of Philosophy and Professor of Aesthetics in the School of Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, he is a regular contributor to El País. In the ‘eighties, he taught in the Zorroaga Faculty of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country in San Sebastián and, in the early ‘nineties, he was Director of the Cervantes Institute in Paris. All his academic activity has been concerned with the paradoxes about the past that arise from present-day art in its state of constant self-denial. His essays (The Learning of Deception, Baudelaire and the Modern-day Artist, Short-circuits, Domesticated Passion, Dictionary of the Arts, An Autobiography without Life) deal with the problems of interpreting art before the French Revolution, in the light of the Romantic revolution and its avant-garde sequels. At the same time, he proposes liberating the history of art from its metaphysical dimension and replacing “Art” with the arts. In 2013, Félix de Azúa won the González-Ruano Journalism Prize. His latest book, Paper Autobiography, was published in 2013.

A prestigious Spanish architect with a renowned international profile, Luis Feduchi has carried out his professional and teaching careers in Spain, India, Switzerland, Germany Austria, USA and Australia. He directs a multi-disciplinary team of students and teachers at the University of Queensland in Australia that, in February 2014, was one of three winners of the international competition for the recovery of the region devastated by the tsunami of eastern Japan in 2011. His present projects include the building of protective structures for the archaeological sites and excavations of the lost city of Muziris, and the Site Museum in Pattanam, Kerala, India. He is also Director of the School of Architecture and Technology at Camilo José Cela University in Madrid.



Speculative architecture
Thursdays, from January 29 to April 30 2015
The Prado Museum Studies Center
Lecture room 1, 16.00 to 18.00

Thursday January 29 2015
The museum as ”speculation”
Félix de Azúa, Co-director of the seminar

Thursday February 5 2015
The extensions of the Prado Museum and the evolution of art criticism
Rafael Moneo, architect, Professor of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design

Thursday February 12 2015
The modern cult of relics
Francesco Dal Co, historian and Professor of the History of Architecture at IUAV University in Venice. This lecture will be given in Italian.

Thursday February 19 2015
Speaker to be announced

Thursday February 26 2015
The democratic museum
Félix de Azúa

Thursday March 5 2015
The museum: ephemerality and historical time
Enrique Sobejano, architect and Professor of Projects at the Berlin University of the Arts

Thursday March 12 2015
Speaker to be announced

Thursday March 26 2015
“Everything in sight”. The Prado collections of the first 100 years
José Manuel Matilla, Head of the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Prado Museum

Thursday April 9 2015
The conceptual museum
Félix de Azúa

Thursday April 16 2015
Essays on thermodynamics, architecture and beauty
Iñaki Ábalos, architect, Chair of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design

Thursday April 23 2015
Implication and invention
David Leatherbarrow, Professor of Architecture at the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania. This lecture will be given in English.

Thursday April 30 2015
The museum as a site
Luis Feduchi, architect and Director of the School of Architecture and Technology at Camilo José Cela University