The Spanish government has announced that it will give the Prado Museum a multi-million loan to fund a large expansion of the country’s national art museum. According to reports in the Spanish press, the Council of Ministers in the country took the decision to approve a €36 million budget for the Prado, a vast sum that will be given to the museum in instalments over the course of the next three years. The majority of the government-backed funding will be spent on renovating the Hall of Realms, or Salón de Reinos as it is known in Madrid. This is a 17th-century building that was originally a wing of the Buen Retiro Palace and it contains some masterpieces that were once part of the royal art collection in the country. The building occupies the site next door to the Prado in central Madrid, a site which the museum’s board recently acquired.
As such, expansion plans for the Prado Museum – ones which have been at the planning stage for the last six years – have finally been given the green light. The decision comes amid numerous delays, some that were caused by the pandemic but also because of the rather fraught political and financial situation Spain has faced in recent times. According to the Prado’s board, the expanded museum will open fully to the public in 2024.
A Compromise Deal
According to some Spanish newspapers, the Ministry of Culture in the country had requested a legal shortcut to obtain the funding for the museum. This meant that it was not necessary to include the loan in the country’s General Budgets. The move is being seen as a compromise deal between two of the parties in the Spanish government which had, until recently, been arguing about how the project might be financed.
Along with the government money, the board at the Prado Museum has agreed to meet some of the minor expenses associated with the conversion of the Hall of Realms, such as the cost of emptying the building. The project was declared as one that was ‘of urgency and exceptional public interest’ by the Culture Ministry. With the funding now sorted out, designs for the new wing of the Prado will be drawn up in greater detail. It is understood that the architectural practice of the renowned British architect Norman Foster will be at the forefront of the design work along with the esteemed Spanish architect Carlos Rubio.
Once the designs have been finalised, the art gallery will add in the region of 5,700 square metres to its footprint. However, not all of this will be gallery space. As the designs currently stand, some 2,600 square metres will be used to stage exhibitions. To put this into context, the previous extension project that the Prado undertook was that conducted on the Jerónimos building. Rafael Moneo was the architect in charge of that project when it was undertaken back in 2007. This project involved the incorporation of 15,715 square metres of new space into the gallery, increasing its size by about a half. At the time, the Prado became the fifth largest museum in the world.
According to the studios run by Norman Foster and Carlos Rubio, the plans for the expansion project have been presented under the tagline, Hidden Trace. Their joint statement said that the project was designed to maximise the use of museum space in the building and to create a new access point on the south facade of the building with the addition of a large atrium. This, they claimed, would offer this side of the Prado a semi-open feeling that would mean it felt ‘permeable’ to the exterior. Furthermore, under their plans, the third floor of the Hall of Realms will be altered so that it is higher and wider than it currently is. A new connection route between the gallery’s current building and the Hall of Realms will be constructed, too.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.