LATTICED SHADOWS SOFTENED AND SHARPENED as the light dimmed and shone from outside. The ground glowed white like a pool of ice, punctuated by tall, slim columns dwarfing aimless visitors walking about. The Buen Retiro Park's Palacio de Cristal was empty on the day I visited; a shell of glass and iron built for the purpose of showcasing its contents, but its splendor nonetheless proves it a showcase in itself.
Erected in 1887 for exhibiting flora from the Philippine islands, the Palacio de Cristal del Retiro was the first non-industrial building in Spain to make use of iron and glass. Designed by architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, who took inspiration from London's Crystal Palace, the cupola-crowned metal structure is covered entirely in glass panels, save for a portico overlooking an artificial lake. Its floor plan takes the shape of a three-armed Greek cross, while its cross-section resembles that of a basilica's, with a tall, thin central body flanked by two lower, lateral naves. On the outside, mallards and griffins populate ceramic-tiled spandrels and bases, while cast-iron lion and angel heads spout rainwater away from the building.
Though originally built as a greenhouse, the structure was turned over to the Ministry of Culture after the 1887 exhibit. Co-run by the Museo Reina Sofía, the Parque del Buen Retiro's beautiful heart of glass has since been dedicated to housing temporary exhibits including Kimsooja's spectacularly prismic To Breathe - A Mirror Woman and Pierre Huyghe's La saison de fêtes, whose installation of plant species touches on the venue's original purpose.
Between exhibits, the bare structure houses a whir of footsteps, murmurs and dust particles floating in the light. There's plenty of space for those random, reflective thoughts, contained no less within fabulously reflective surfaces.
Palacio de Cristal del Retiro, Madrid. Photos by Lady San Pedro and a random tourist who took my photo.