Located in the Arganzuela district in the south of Madrid, Mercado Matadero is the city’s former slaughterhouse built between 1910 and 1924. The complex, an outstanding example of industrial architecture from the beginning, is now one of the cities cultural hotspots and an important attraction point on the newly redeveloped riverfront, Madrid Rio.
Its history follows the same paths as other former food production sites in Europe which have been relocated to the periphery of the city, leaving their former majestic buildings to be repurposed or left in ruin. After the Second World War Mercado Matadero became a storehouse and only in the beginning of 90s it was rediscovered and transformed for a short period into the headquarters of the Spanish National Ballet until 1996, when it was again abandoned and became a place occupied by squatters and homeless people.
Only in 2006 and in connection with the large scale Madrid Rio, riverfront redevelopment project, the Municipality of Madrid realising the potential of this huge unused space and together with public and private institutions, renovated the site and turned it into what is now an emerging cultural centre, a laboratory for culture, design and urban studies for the entire city.
As part of the new project, the six naves (halls) have been repurposed to serve a wide array of cultural sectors: The Nave Español as a theatre and dance space, Cineteca showcases all activities related to audiovisual production, Intermediae is a space for collective projects open to public participation and Centro del Diseño is dedicated to design.
But the complex is also housing non public actors. Casa de Lector, a high-tech literature and exhibition centre was established as a foundation promoting reading by the Spanish publisher Anaya after a 16.8 million euro makeover of a the former pig slaughterhouse.
For a brief period of time starting with 2011, Red Bull also moved into Mercado Matadero. It spent more than $2.2 million to create its own musical academy and fashion a garden in the interior of the building, where there are also whimsical sandbag huts built on top of the red earth ordinarily used in bullfighting rings. The academy includes a professional recording studio and performing space, part of Red Bull’s international network of music workshops and concerts that it has organized since 1995 in cities from New York to Berlin to promote its brand.
If the buildings contained on the site are now each host to a high rank cultural institution, the large public space which revolves around them was opened to host weekly temporary events like design and local food fairs, thus inviting to some extent, other private parties and civil society groups in the ongoing reimagining of the site.
Since 2012, the entire management of Mercado Matadero was transferred from the municipality to Madrid Destino, a public company owned by Madrid City Council, giving the complex a much needed level of autonomy and more decision power to its constellation of stakeholders.
Although, far from its advertised goals, Mercado Matadero has still managed to go beyond the rigid publicly managed cultural institutions and develop new forms of cultural management, promoting citizens participation and a more bottom-up model of organisation, at least for some parts of its site.
The main weakness of the project still comes from its rather top-down approach and investment which as in the case of the adjacent Madrid Rio project has lead to extreme municipal depts and very hard to quantify gains. Not surprisingly, its most popular functions are not its most expensive ones but the places that allow co-creation of their content: the community centre and the open air fairs. This demonstrates once again the need for public institutions to go beyond megalomaniac investments as the only conceivable solutions and to think instead about becoming platforms and facilitators, allowing private parties and the civil society to take part of the production of shared spaces bringing with them their own diverse expertise.