elii [oficina de arquitectura]



'The palace as seen by elii', Centro Centro, Madrid



Curatorship and display design for the exhibition ‘Wires, black boxes and urban fetishes’, CentroCentro, Madrid

Since its foundation as a Communications Palace a hundred years ago, Cibeles Palace has served as the setting for many different lives and has often been the focus of gazes. This series of exhibitions, El Palacio visto por... (The Palace as Seen by...) arises from that idea of gazing, of reading from different points of view. Every year, we invite different artists and architects to create an exhibition that includes an informative tour through the archives and history of the building, and to propose a personal reading of the palace. The architecture office elii has participated in this edition of El Palacio visto por...

After studying the tender and construction documents for the Palace of Communications, elii has been able to confirm the disappearance, during the building process, of a fundamental element: the wires that were drawn on the plans that architects Antonio Palacios and Joaquín Otamendi submitted for the tender in 1904; a network of cables that started from the central tower of the Palace and ran towards the city, passing through the pinnacles that crown the façades of the building. For elii, these wires provide evidence of the fact that, from the very beginning, the building was conceived as one of the city's infrastructure nodes. And they were eliminated precisely to hide the technological processes for the domination of nature that took place in modern cities. Following the trail of those wires, we will access the urban black box, an invisible city that exists beneath our feet, populated by a kind of “technological inhabitants”: wires, cables, pipes, channels, device networks, infrastructures, structures, installations, wells, cisterns, tubes, tunnels, pipelines, sanitary conduits, sewers, drains, culverts, galleries, communications, etc., which tirelessly and silently function so that everything works on “this side,” so that everything can be “normal.”

The exhibition is arranged as an array of texts and images supported by a series of tensile structures, formed by two main elements. First, a matrix of pinnacles; a contemporary scaled version of the pinnacles that adorn the façades of the Palace. And secondly, a tensile, continuous and lightweight network of wires, that reminds us of the wires of the original sketch of the proposal. The pinnacles and the wires merge in the exhibition space just as two overlapping structures are blended in the Communications Palace. On the one hand, the heavy, monumental, historicist and allegoric structure of the façades and the fetishised spaces of the Palace. And on the other hand, superimposed on this, the lightweight, ethereal and almost imperceptible structure of the network of wires, that technological web, today invisible and turned into a black box, through which the Palace was connected with the world.  

101 years after the opening of this iconic landmark, one of Madrid’s true architectural fetishes, we will cross the spaces of the Palace, guided by this group of architects, to get to the heart of the urban black box: the place where cities make a pact with nature.

From 6th February 2020 to 31st January 2021.

[Abstract included in the exhibition]


The palace as seen by… elii

1. Urban body. The new Communications Palace was conceived as a node in the infrastructure of Madrid's new “urban body,” which was responsible for the distribution of communication flows.

Urban metabolism.

2. Metropolitan imprint. Many elements bear testimony to the metropolitan status of the Palace of Communications, on different scales.

Building = city.

3. Communication processes. Two communication processes overlapped at the Communications Palace. The first had to do with the monumental and allegorical condition of its architectural body. But superimposed on top of it, a second structure was deployed: a lightweight and aerial communication network through which Madrid would connect to the world. 

Past, present and future connections.

4. Civil temple. The Communications Palace was as a kind of civil temple which is no longer “connected” to a deity, but rather to modernity. 

“Our Lady of Communications”.

5. An architecture of flows. Over the course of their career, Palacios and Otamendi participated in various industrial and infrastructure projects, both individually and as partners.

Inhabitable infrastructures.

6. A palace within a palace. One of the most notable references in the work of the Communications Palace is the Glass Palace in the Retiro Park, whose floor plan was literally inscribed in the central space of the Communications Palace.

Connections between spaces and times.

7. Urban fetishes. Many infrastructure buildings erected between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th acted as urban fetishes, replete with historicist references. Meanwhile, the processes of co-modification of the city and nature remained masked. 

Behind the objects of desire, invisible assemblies.

8. Urban “staging”. The urban fetishes turned the modern city into a kind of “theatre” for the “staging” of the modern Promethean project.

City = theatre.

9. The urban black box. Beneath the feet of we citizens who live in modern cities, there is another technological city, parallel and invisible, which operates silently so that everything works “on this side.” That space is the urban “black box”.

Dichotomy structure.

10. The disappearance of the wires. The burial of the wires was part of the processes to render invisible the infrastructures that were beginning to be put into practice, as part of the processes of modernisation of the cities. 

Abandoning the visible and fetishised body of the Palace, in order to be integrated into the urban black box.

11. The scales of the black box. The urban model based on black boxes had effects on different scales: from the macro to the micro.


12. Opening the black box. During the last decades of the 20th century, infrastructures began to emerge from hiding. 

Making visible what had been invisible.

14. The disrepute of the modern city. Many different spheres began to demand that those urban black boxes should be opened in order to make visible those processes that had, until then, remained hidden. 

Urban fetishes = frustrated reminder of Promethean excess.

15. The Irruption of Gaia. Perhaps these urban fetishes are the signs that show the contradictions of a culture that has to re-think its lifestyles, its worldview, its desires, it powers, its responsibilities, its aesthetics, its limits, its weaknesses, its cosmologies, its links with other “terrestrials,” its cosmo-political relations... 

New architectures for a new climate regime.

15. Spaces of co-habitation. The Communications Palace invites us to expand the spectrum of the governance of human relationships so as to include natural and technological processes, as well, in a comprehensive way. 

Nature, technology and society are interdependent spheres.

  • Graphic and museographic design:
  • elii [oficina de arquitectura]
  • Architects:
  • elii - Uriel Fogué + Eva Gil + Carlos Palacios
  • Architect coordinating the team: 
  • elii – Lucía Fernández
  • Colaborators:
  • elii - Lucía Fernández, Ana López, Raquel García, Marta Vaquero. 
  • Texts:
  • elii - Uriel Fogué + Eva Gil + Carlos Palacios
  • Coordination and production: 
  • CentroCentro 
  • Seting up: 
  • Santiago Santiago
  • Photography:
  • ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Surface:
  • 390,00m2.
  • Date:
  • 6 de febrero 2020 – 31 de enero 2021
  • Location:
  • CentroCentro, Madrid
  • Acknowledgements:
  • Jacobo Armero (architect and curator), José Luis Barrero (Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid), Ascensión Ciruelos (Departamento Museo de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando), Victoria Crespo Gutiérrez (Directora del Museo Postal y Telegráfico), Guillermo de la Calzada (Arquitecto en Ayuntamiento de Madrid), Gloria Donato Blanch (Dirección Archivo de Villa), Reyes Esparcia (Patrimonio Tecnológico y Archivo Histórico de Telefónica), Francisco Fernández Cuesta (archivero Archivo de Villa), Alberto Gallego-Casilda Benítez (Archivo General del Ministerio de Fomento), María Cristina García Pérez (Biblioteca Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid), Soledad Gutiérrez, Pedro Ismael Jiménez Arias (archivero Archivo de Villa), María José Magaña Clemente (Instituto Cervantes), Federico Manzarbeitia (Consejero Técnico de la D.G. de intervención en el Paisaje Urbano), David Márquez Latorre, Ángel Martínez Díaz, Francisco Martínez Díez (Estudio Idea Arquitectos), Elena Mascareñas (Gerencia de Urbanismo de Ayuntamiento de Madrid), Ángeles Monturiol González (Sección de Archivo, Departamento de Asuntos Generales, A. G. de Desarrollo Urbano Sostenible, Gerencia de Urbanismo de Ayuntamiento de Madrid), Esperanza Navarrete Martínez (Archivera del departamento de Archivo, biblioteca y publicaciones de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando), Susana Olivares Abengozar (doctora arquitecto y comisaria), Álvaro Otamendi Vallet (familia Otamendi, Alta 3 Arquitectos), José María Otamendi Oteiza (familia Otamendi, arquitecto), Gilberto Pedreira Campillo (Director biblioteca digital "memoriademadrid”), Susana Ramírez Paredes (Biblioteca Histórica Municipal de Madrid), José Luis Ramos González (archivero Archivo de Villa), Susana Rodríguez Jiménez (Archivo, biblioteca y publicaciones de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando), Carmen Rojas Cerro (Área de Cultura, Turismo y Deporte, Dirección General de Patrimonio Cultural), Blanca Ruilope Urioste (Biblioteca de la Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid), Mariluz Sánchez Moral (Jefe de Servicio de Conservación del Patrimonio Inmueble en Ayuntamiento de Madrid. D.G. de Patrimonio), Alberto Sanz Hernando (Servicio histórico del Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid), Enrique Sanz Neira (Conarquitectura), Marina Serrano Muñoz (Jefa de sección de licencias y exposiciones, Archivo General de la Administración), Archivo General del Ministerio del Interior, Archivo del Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España, Biblioteca digital "memoriademadrid”, Biblioteca de la Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid, Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid.