Cinema of woven light

It sounds ominous: a cinema designed in the space of a former abattoir. How do you turn one cool cavern into a second, more welcoming but equally dark space? You invite the right kind of architects and let them turn artistic inspiration into architectural quality.

From the turn of the 20th century, this building, in south-central Madrid, was a slaughterhouse and livestock market. After a period of negligence beginning in the 1980’s, it has now been converted into a cinema with one large and one small screen, studio space, and an archive containing 7,000 films, which are all free of charge for visitors.

Local architects Churtichaga + Quadra-Salcedo have turned a run-down space into a hip hideaway using a surprisingly simple strategy, and to great effect. Long lines of plastic tubing run through the interior of several of the building’s more dramatic spaces. Staircases, halls and the large theatre space are adorned with the plastic, which is woven in horizontal lines to achieve a faintly abstract effect of soft space.

The pattern is created by wrapping conventional, lightly coloured irrigation hoses around firm steel tubular frames. The architectural function of these interventions is to add lighting to the large, deep and dark areas in the complex. But they add visual orientation to the otherwise nebulous spaces. For instance, the lit-up tubes guide visitors through the main hall and round the archive.

The architects mention a Rembrandt painting as a, perhaps subconscious, inspiration: his Carcass of Beef (1657). It’s an interestingly suggestive connotation. Dark, wavy lines are accentuated by sheer light falling and reflecting off the plastic structure. It’s almost like an H. R. Giger design – as though you’re walking through an alien space ship.

The contrasting colours are evocative, too. Monochrome, textureless floors and walls of dark grey slate and carpet are set off against dynamic elements that are bathed in bright yellow-orange lighting. The flowing lines of the weaving add aesthetic effect to the angular, awkward spaces in the building.

The Cinemateca Matadero (or ‘Cinema Slaughterhouse’) is located in a central district in Madrid and well worth a visit. This building is a demonstration of how a relatively simple idea can lead to a powerful transformation for a building. The Cinemateca is one of the exemplary projects within Materia’s new theme, Leisure & Hospitality.

Image credit: FG + SG.