Thursday, 8 November 2012

Electric Sheep and Telefonica

I am sorry to say we are still having worrying times with my mum so it's good to retreat into pleasant memories of Madrid.   And one of my best memories of Madrid is Telefonica, the telecoms company.  Yes, that's right, the company that provides broadband and telephone services.   But Telefonica isn't just about trying to flog you a cheap payment plan and pestering you with sales calls. Nor is it just an out of date computer virus. 

Its original headquarters stands in a prominent position on Gran Via, a big street in Madrid which reminds me of old pictures of New York of the 1920s (click here to see what I mean),  Hardly surprising, since some of Europe's first skyscrapers were built in Gran Via, and they're mostly still there.

Telefonica's 1930 headquarters is arguably the finest of these old skyscrapers. Its topped with a forest of aerials (just visible in the photo) and combines the simplicity of art deco, and the elaborate baroque style so characteristic of Spain.

When I passed, its downstairs windows shone with a strange, bright blue light, so I peeped in at the main door.    Inside it was a mix of blue, white and gold, old and new.  There were ever-changing LED display stairs. ....

and sleek, modern, white surfaces.......

and loads of the latest phones and computers, of course, as well as this giant screen with a virtual pebbly stream you could splash in without getting your fingers wet. . 

Yet original bits of the flagship 1930 building were cleverly integrated, like this magnificent golden ceiling

and a touching memorial showing a vintage telephonist with a rose bush and a dove.

Exploring further, I found that Telefonica is a patron of the arts.  On the top floor is the company's large collection of Cubist paintings and a specially made movie about Cubism in Madrid.   On the middle floor is a well displayed and fascinating museum (in Spanish and English) of telephony and telegraphy going right up to the future!  Here's an older exhibits: a telegraph using a piano keyboard..

My favourite floor has a lecture theatre and displays temporary art exhibitions.  When I was there, they had the finalists in the company's annual competition on the theme of art  and artiificial intelligence.  Of all the strange and fascinating artworks,  the two that caught my imagination were "Electric Sheep" by Scott Draves, and "Hylozoic Soil" by Philip Beesley and Rob Gorbett.

"Electric Sheep" is electronic "artwork" automatically created by the output of  thousands of computers which are not currently being used (that is, "sleeping" - the computers are counting sheep, in a way.)  Several screens produce endless kaleidoscopic patterns seguing into one another, suggesting all kinds of things. - heaven, hell,, flowers, planets, robots, strange psychedelic creatures.... I could have watched them for hours.

"Hylozoic Soil" was extremely beautiful - a towering crystalline forest full of what seemed to be unearthly flowering trees.  The work is made of acrylic tiles fitted with sensors to pick up human presence, and glass bulbs containing artificial cells called Traube cells -  self-assembling chemical systems which do not contain DNA.

When you walk in, the forest reacts to you, bending and swaying according to what you do.  Wow! It is quite an experience and I can see why it won first prize.   If you want to see more images of this work, click here

Part of the building has been renovated in bold and almost abstract style, with a fabulous modern staircase that is like a piece of art in itself, all steel and glass and iron.

in strange contrast with the more traditional architecture visible through the windows.

I don't know what telecoms prices in Spain are, but personally  I'd pay a bit extra myself to support something like the imaginative Telefonica building and its galleries.  I spent over half a day there.  It's all free and I think it should be one of the top attractions in Madrid.   Believe it or not, though, I didn't even find it in my guidebook.


  1. I'm truly sorry to hear that things aren't going well with your mother. I know how very diffcult such times can be.
    I enjoyed your tour of the Telephonica Building and the photos are wonderful. I especially like the LED display stairs and - of course - the telegraph piano keyboard!

  2. Hello Jenny:
    What a fantasic building in all respects: exterior, interior and contents. This is something we should much like to see for ourselves.

    We very much hope that all will be well with your mother.

  3. What a glorious building. I have never really visited Madrid (just changed planes there) and I can't think of a more suitable set of images to get me to book a trip in the near future (I hear tell they have a good selection of real beer as well!)

  4. One should never judge a book by its cover I suppose. I would not have guessed what interesting art and architecture are inside this stoic looking building. The crystalline forest that is shape-shifting as people go by is, indeed, a wonder!

  5. I was in Madrid a few months ago just for one week. I loved Madrid. I didnt know this building,now thank to you I know it, :)
    If I come back to Madrid I will visit it for sure.
    Best regards Jenny.

  6. That place looks like a place that you could spend a day at and still not see it all! Plus it's free? Sounds like a wonderful place to visit.
    Thoughts and prayers headed your way for you and your mother.

  7. An excellent tour! Amazed this is not better known.

  8. Hope all will be well with your mother. Take care.

    Love the Hylozoic Soil. I really want to go around it.

  9. As usual, a very interesting and informative post. You take us o to many great places.

    So sorry to hear about your mom. I know how difficult a time that is.

  10. The crystal "forest" looks like something straight out of a dream! While it does seem a shame that this building and its galleries are not mentioned in the guide books, on the other hand, this makes for a quieter experience, away from the bustling tourist crowds.

  11. Who could imagine a communications company turning their headquarters into a show piece! It's going on my must see it someday list.

    Hope your mother is doing better very soon.

  12. What a hidden gem you found! Beautiful *and* useful objects, from an age when those terms were not mutually-exclusive. We stumbled on an ancient AT&T (Atlantic Telephone & Telegraph, I think, one of the oldest companies here) complex not far from here, with Alexander Bell's old paraphernalia. It's wonderful these places exist. (Sending best wishes for your mum's health).

  13. Wow what an impressive building inside and out. Sorry to hear that there is no improvement with your Mum's health, difficult times for you.

  14. Sorry about your mum. Well, Madrid is the place to go -London is simply too cold. The Telefonica building reminded me a bit of LUL headquarters in St James Park Tube Station. Don't ask me why.

  15. What a wonderful building. Here in the States this would probably be torn down to make room for a new building that wouldn't have the charm and artistry of this one. Thanks for sharing.

  16. I love all the modern abstract parts. I'm a sucker for shiny floors, white walls and metal. :D

    Hope your mum improves soon.

  17. That is a magnificent building! What a shame that it is not publicized more. A place I would definitely visit if I ever get to Spain.

    I know how difficult and hard it is to see a parent suffering with medical issues. She is lucky to have you by her side.

  18. What a magnificent post! Delicious and just what I needed on this blustery day. A bit of travel from my computer and the chair which I am warming! So much light and air in that building- really wonderful! Thank you!

  19. I'm sorry that your mother is still having must be a worrying time for you.

    That building, both inside and out, should be starring in the guidebooks.
    You have made me think of 'reasons' to go to Madrid just to see it.

  20. How lucky for you to have found this wonderful building!

    Best wishes to your Mom.

  21. Fascinating pictures, Jenny. I really like that forest.

    Hope your Mum gets better soon.

  22. I know that building years ago and I love your story. How beautiful is the Gran Via, a treasure. I hope everything goes well with your mother and improves. A huge greeting Yenny.

  23. Absolutely wonderful photos! I lived in Madrid for a year and this post brings back nothing but great memories. Thank you.

  24. It looks like a building well worth visiting and full of amazing sights. Like you, I never found it in the guide book when I was visiting Madrid a few years back.

  25. What a fabulous building, I adore the architecture of older buildings.
    One can drive in my older cities and see these gems just siting empty. Breaks my heart.
    I love the amazing stairs and the ever changing artwork. I would have spent a half a day there also.
    What I am most intrigued with is the Hylozic Soil, what a forest.
    I wonder what or why were you in this area that you were able to fine this gem ?
    I hope your Mother is doing better.

    Wonderful post today.

    cheers, parsnip

  26. What an amazing place in every aspect: the integration of old and new architecture alone is beautiful and commendable, and the displays you described and illustrated seem absolutely amazing.

  27. Jenny, this is absolutely fascinating, from the architecture to the exhibits inside. The Electric Sheep are so Mandelbrotian, like fractal art. And that crystal forest! If Tolkien were still writing the Lord of the Rings, he might have conceived some of his elven forests the same way.

    I like your reference to Art Deco NYC. That is my favorite period from New York and Art Deco midtown was my old stomping ground where I lived and worked. The Chrysler Building is my favorite skyscraper. And, when we got married, we held it in the Rainbow Room at the top of the Rockefeller Building, just so we could pretend to be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers for a little bit.

    I hope your mum is ok. I haven't seen your previous post where I gather you talked about it, but will right now ...

  28. What a wonderful place - great post and brilliant pictures! Thank you for posting this.
    I'm so sorry about your worries with your mum. Hope things improve soon x

  29. Lots here to find impressive: the splashy stream and the antique equipment, to mention just two. I haven't seen or heard anything of the once-vaunted virtual reality (apart from some very watered down forms) for ages. The stream seems as near as it gets these days.

  30. This looks like a really interesting place - I love that wonderful Art Deco ceiling. So sorry to hear that your mum is unwell, I do hope things will improve very soon.

  31. Come on BT, what about it?
    OK, leave it to Telefonica.

    Sorry about your Mum, Jenny. here’s hoping she’ll recover son.

  32. Hello, Jenny Woolf.

      Lovely your works, full of joy.

      Thank you World-wide LOVE, and your Support.

      The prayer for all peace.
      I wish You all the best.

    Have a good day. from Japan ruma ❀

  33. If I ever make it to Madrid I know one place I will be visiting.

  34. Wow for the art..the visuals at the end...but the building its' self. Art abundantly.

  35. That sounds like my sort of place to see Jenny. Glad you discovered it and thanks for showing it. Wonderful - Dave

  36. oh wow...what a neat that virtual stream...and the LED much to feast the eyes on aritfacts as well...

  37. Hello, Jenny! I love the story about "Sleeping computers",counting sheep! I wonder it's a pretty show, many different pictures in one place.
    I have another blog in English "Nadezda's Northern garden", there isn't a problem with translation.
    Thank you for stopping by my blog!

  38. Wow. I'd certainly appreciate the exhibits, especially the ones on cubism and the virtual pebble pond. I'd also like the electric sheep - I used to collect fractal and psychedelic posters. But I think what I'd love most of all would be the architecture and design. Just lovely. Thanks for sharing!

  39. Oh, and so sorry, in my enthusiasm over the building, I wanted to say that I wish your mum well and hope she recovers soon.

  40. Hello Jenny, I do hope your Mum's health is on the improve.
    I'd been meaning to read this particular post, so popped back over for it.
    Such an astounding place indeed, I was very taken with it and it most definitely should be in a guide book!! The very building itself is just wonderful with it's blend of old and new architecture. The exhibits are fascinating and I was especially taken with the Hylozoic Soil... thanks for the link to more photos. Strange and lovely to see and quite amazing to experience it first hand.


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