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Museo del Prado

Criticism for Prado's approach to expansion project

Criticism from the Spanish architectural world as the museum launches huge open competition for its new extension

A staggering total of 1,591 architectural practices have entered their names in the competition for the new Prado reconstruction and extension competition. The open nature of the competition, with no pre-selection, has been criticised as a waste of time in museum and architectural circles.

Of those firms entering, 510 are Spanish, 167 Italian, 146 French and thirty-two British. From outside the EU, 182 North and South American firms have put their names forward, 110 from South East Asia and the Pacific Rim, four from Australia and nine from African countries. Entries from Britain include Norman Foster (who has, perhaps wisely, teamed up with the Spanish firm of Miguel de Oriole Calatrava), Nicholas Grimshaw, Michael Hopkins, Leon Krier and Terry Farrell.

The first deadline for entries is on 30 September. A jury of seven non-Spaniards and seven Spaniards (including Culture Minister Carmen Alborch and Prado director Jose Maria Luzon) will whittle the anonymous contestors down to a maximum of ten entries. Those passing into the second phase of the competition will have their entries exhibited at the city's modern art museum, the Reina Sofia. The overall winner will be decided in May l996 and work will begin in the first half of 1997.

The fact that, unlike the recent new Tate Gallery competition in London, there has been no pre-selection to whittle down numbers, has been much criticised. So has the fact that simply obtaining the rules and competition brief costs $250, while those who get through to the second stage must pay Pta5 million (£26,000; $42,000).

The brief is in fact a complex and problematic one, involving the linking of pre-existing nearby buildings including the Church of the Jeronimos and the Army Museum (which will cease to exist as such) into the main Prado building; a new building in the cloisters of the Jeronimos; and completely new spaces at the rear of the building which will house the administrative offices, restaurant and other non-gallery areas currently in the main building. The whole complex will be linked by a series of underground tunnels.

This month urgent work gets underway on the Museum's roof. Culture Minister Alborch has opted for the design of Dionisio Hernandez Gil, former director of Madrid's Academia de Bellas Artes, and Rafael Olalquiaga, which uses a lead and glass roof. Natural light will be reduced by 50% (modern conservation standards require no more than 200 lux, and the Prado has levels of between 500 and 600). The museum's existing floor space will also be enlarged by 2,000 square metres. Cost of this work is Pta l,600 (£8.3 million). Again, critics have called it "pure madness" to embark on such an extensive project before the competition for the new Prado is underway.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Why can't the Prado be more like the Tate?'