The Eternal Glow

“It’s a silent space, and people cry inside,” says Mauro Gil-Fournier Esquerra, of FAM architecture studio. “It’s very emotional.” He’s referring to the blue chamber beneath the monument to the victims of 11M—as the March 11, 2004, attacks in Madrid are known to Spaniards.

The international memorial competition called for a sculpture stranded at the center of a traffic island outside Atocha station, the site of seven of the ten bombs that killed 191 commuters and wounded 2,050 that morning. Esquerra’s winning entry proposed extending the monument below street level to form a chapel-like memorial space inside the underground train station. The concept was clever, but the renderings—featuring an ­amor­phous blob floating in the night sky and a translucent chasm riddled with text—gave little indication of how it would be realized.

Completed this spring in time for the third anniversary of the tragedy, the luminous three-story monument is built of 150,000 curved glass blocks glued together with a liquid-acrylic material hardened by ultraviolet lamps. Inside the tower, an ETFE membrane—the same material used for Her­zog & de Meuron’s Allianz Arena, in Munich, and OMA’s Serpentine Gallery, in London—is printed with hundreds of messages left at the station by mourners in the days after the bombings. After dark, the volume radiates softly in the sky from lights in the opening at its base; during the day, sunlight produces an ethereal glow as it filters through the glass tower and reflects off the deep blue surfaces in the underground chamber.

“This is the moment of the memorial,” Esquerra says of the daylight effect. “It’s like an instant, something very fast. We want to speak to the light and the future: the spirit of the monument is to take all of the messages of these days, the feelings of the people, and create an eternal meaning for them.”

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