The Alonso de A Coruña garage: the home of the automobile

Although there is an effort to order the world, to establish the necessary limits for coexistence, there are always small dissidences. Deliberate inaccuracies that allow enriching the organizational structures reviled or perhaps just boring. Over time, consolidated professionals in a field, are discovered as relevant figures in other disciplines distant or not from theirs.. Perhaps that symbiotic relationship within his interests has notably benefited his professional production. When these small fuzzy leaks cross in a more generic way and not from the hand of a specific professional a certain mutual tension is established, the result of an enthusiastic attraction.

Architecture is a transversal discipline by definition, through the habitat generates a symbiosis with the human being that develops an immanent costumbrismo to a common condition. And the human being is not an example of equanimity. The architectural discipline needs to equip itself with the imperfections of human behavior, in addition to its virtues, so as not to be a mere sculpture for contemplative use. In a way, it may be the imperfections that separate architecture from what it seems.

‘[el automóvil es] an exemplary object that combines the virtues of economy and beauty, utility and form’. Adolf Loos

The admiration for means of transport such as ships, planes and automobiles from the architectural discipline has been a constant since the beginning of the 20th century. The consolidation of this relationship takes place with the publication of ‘Vers une architecture’ (Le Corbusier, 1923), a text in which the architect compares works of classical architecture such as the Parthenon with an ocean liner, seeking a formal and functional relationship.

‘It is necessary to tend to the establishment of norms to face the problem of perfection. The Parthenon is a product of selection applied to a norm. The architecture acts on the rules. The norms are a matter of logic, analysis and scrupulous study; They are established on a well-posed problem. Experimentation definitely sets the standard‘. Le Corbusier, Towards an architecture.

Alonso Garage, via Todocollection

A fascination that will become adherence to the profession, There are many architects who, outside of their profession, collaborated and designed automobiles, or developed extensive knowledge of aeronautics and shipbuilding. The interest in the vehicles of architects directly influences their work, such as Frei Otto, Carlo Mollino, Norman Foster, Adolf Loos, Frank Lloyd Wright, Craig Ellwood, Buckminster Fuller or Le Corbusier. In some cases, such as Frei Otto, the interest in aeronautics precedes the profession of architect, since he was a German pilot during World War II, others such as Carlo Mollino, Buckminster Fuller or Le Corbusier developed or collaborated on designs such as the Bisiluro (Mollino, Dalmonte, Nardi, 1955), the Dymaxion car (Buckminster Fuller, 1933) or the Biscuter (Le Corbusier, Voisin, 1940).

1955 Damolnar Bisiluro by German Medeot via Flickr
Biscuter interior by Anna via Flickr
1929 Frank Lloyd Wright Cord L-29 Cabriolet car by Greg Gjerdingen via flickr
Dymaxion car in 1933 by kitchener.lord via Flickr

the car house

The creation of new means of transport generates an opportunity for design and at the same time a need to adapt infrastructures to their idiosyncrasy. The hangars, the transatlantic terminals or the car house, they require a series of new features that are capable of serving them. The architecture of the automobile, as a dealership or as a garage, raises an inevitable question: how should it be? Aspects such as language, typology or aesthetics are applied to already established concepts such as morphology, structure or function. It is not a question of a detached or alien relationship, but the association of certain ideas to a certain language, allows us to perceive the cars exhibited or stored in a specific way.

One of the pioneering buildings in the construction of architecture for the automobile is the Marbeuf Garage (Auguste Perret. Paris, 1929. Demolished in 1952), the work of Albert Laprade, León-Emile Bazin with A. Ravazé and Jean Prouvé. Prouvé, would be years later a benchmark in the development of technological and avant-garde construction details. The idea behind this garage is to create a ‘theater’ in which the street is the stage and the cars are constituted as a stalls. And it is that the citizens stopped in front of the cars (then a great spectacle) as in the scene of ‘The Sky over Berlin’ (Wim Wenders, 1987), becoming strange pantomime actors observed by the machines.

The rapid popularization of the automobile caused the development of unique architectures linked to the brand image. In Spain, SEAT is linked to the architect César Ortiz-Echagüe and to the innovation of aluminum as a cutting-edge material. In A Coruña, the SEAT or the Citröen both, buildings designed by Fernández-Albalat mark a turning pointbut before reaching this sophistication there was a certain morphological context for the car house.

Stills from ‘The Sky over Berlin’ (Wim Wenders, 1987), via YouTube

The arrival of the automobile in A Coruña

In A Coruña, before the arrival of the SEAT or the Citröen, small garages existed that served as ‘car storage’ since the urban fabric did not have buildings with a basement or space to store the car. The vehicles that circulated around the city were scarce, and not all the houses had a space to store them.

The Alonso Garage, in A Coruña, was one of those pioneering warehouses, which served to store the first cars that arrived in the city. In this case, the architecture of the garage draws on a rudimentary language in comparison with the degree of development that it will reach later. The first linguistic association of the automobile with architecture is Art-Dèco which, in this typology, takes references from constructivism, futurism, art-nouveau or cubism. This architectural language incorporates avant-garde elements of technology, among which features reminiscent of the engine or machine are included, from a romantic perspective. The Chrysler Building (William Van Allen, 1930) or the Empire State Building (William F. Lamb, 1931) became, even before the completion of the work, authentic icons of the avant-garde and of the formal union between architecture and machine. Thus, the Chrysler incorporates gargoyles inspired by the hood of the PlymouthMeanwhile he Empire Estate was topped with an antenna that served as a zeppelin dock.

Photomontage with the position of the garage on Juan Flórez street

Basilicas, Baths and Art-Dèco

in A Coruna, the Alonso garage draws on Art-Dèco linguistics, although perhaps because the cars here were slower than in North America, this is cleaned up slightly by lowering the intensity of the ornamentation. Despite this, the compositional structure of the garage is organized according to the avant-garde of the moment. Located at 55-57 Juan Flórez Street (with other secondary locations at Calle Betanzos 3 and Calle Rosalía de Castro 1-3-5-7) the garage It was built by Juan de Ciórraga de la Bastida (1836-1931), architect of the first Coruña expansion (1878) and many other buildings such as the rear facade of the Casa Ozores, number 18 Galera Street, the Casa de los Cisnes in the Plaza de Lugo or the Plaza de Toros.

Photomontage of the garage in Juan Flórez street

‘The opening of the garage was a complete success, as reported in the chronicles of the moment: ‘On Sunday there was a great automobile festival of a regional nature in La Coruña. We refer to the inauguration and blessing of the building of the new plant with which the prestigious company name ‘Alonso y Compañía’ expands its business. The new garage is located on Juan Flórez street. It can be considered the first in the Galician region’. La Región newspaper, chronicle of 1921.

The building is characterized by a arch-shaped hole divided into three, a classicist composition, with a neutral perceptual impact and closely associated with industrial constructions. in classical architecture the triple basilica or thermal window, wasas the language defines them, in the basilicas or the baths. These building typologies were high-rise, diaphanous spaces, conceived for meetings and public exhibition. Perhaps for this reason, when architectural imagery sought references within its tradition to develop buildings with wide and fluid spaces in which to display something, discuss it or conduct business, resorts to the typology of the bath and the basilica.

Image: Nuria Prieto

The openings project towards the lower part, lengthening and developing the different aspects of the interior space of the garage.. The proportion makes the lateral openings wider than the central one, determining the entry and exit of vehicles at the ends, and pedestrians in the center. The opening of openings finishes off the composition with a small window on each side, with narrow proportions. The ornamentation of the facade is brief, just a cornice that separates the openings on the ground floor from those on the upper floor, an upper finish, as well as modernist-style outdoor lamps. A fundamental aspect within the aesthetics of the architecture of the car is the integration of typography in the piece, in the same way that it is done with vehicles. In this case the flourish clean typography, but with structure still art-nouveau, creates an image close to the most avant-garde art-Dèco.

But in those architectures designed to house vehicles, the fascination of design does not end with the work, but extends to the exhibits. Inside the Alonso Garage, according to the chronicle of the moment, Hudson supper 3 vehicles, Essex vehicles, a Minerva Torpedo, or trucks from the Swiss brand Surer could be seen.

Photos, cars and architecture

The architecture of the car, of the machine, recreates a scene in which, through design, both disciplines are linked developing creations that transcend the foreseeable. The perception perhaps does not appreciate that commitment dissolved in the project or in the design, but something in that atmosphere is harmonic and precise.

‘Think of the internal structure of the upper epiphysis of a human femur. Just consider the difference that still exists between the fuselage of a glider and the ribcage of a heron: an integral of precision, matter gathered where it is needed and to the extent strictly necessary; maximum force and minimum weight: elegantia’. Carlo Mollino

Sylvia at the Trevi Fountain performed by Anita Ekberg in Dolce Vita, via Wikimedia Commons

Carlo Mollino, architect, but also collaborator in the design of the Bisiluro, photographer and almost erotomaniac fetishist, understood this relationship as something natural, organic and even unconscious. Perhaps the perception makes the machine, the space and a certain attraction to the avant-garde and the future, come together in an exciting atmosphere. The precision of the design produces a pleasure, a promise of sophisticated eudaimonia that outlines a Dolce Vita projectsomething that in Fellini’s hands is drawn as an endless passion: ‘There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only one infinite passion for life’.

The Alonso de A Coruña garage: the home of the automobile