Rebuilding the Recoletos Racquetball Court in 3D


by Leopoldo Llorente Avanzini

Recoletos Racquetball Court (Madrid, 1935)
Architect: Secundino Zuazo (1887–1971)
Structural Engineer: Eduardo Torroja
The Recoletos Racquetball Court project is a rarity nowadays, it is a so-called Jai Alai court, a sport of Basque origin whose popularity in Spain has decreased in the last few decades. The few courts that are left in Madrid are being slowly closed down. After the Recoletos Racquetball Court was bombed during the Spanish Civil War, it was finally demolished in the 1970′s due to structural damage and general decay.
One day we came across an old photo of the interior and were astonished by its magnificence and quite notoriously by the scarcity of information regarding the project. The more we searched, the more frustrated we became. From the little we found we could already foresee the beauty hidden in the interior of this grey boxy building. Finding hardly any further information, plans, sections, elevations, etc. we started to draw some sketches in order to understand its structure and the way light flooded the court. Without noticing we were already starting to make it our challenge to bring some light into the project, to present a small homage to a time when structures were calculated by hand and project models where done with clay or cardboard, a world where computers didn’t exist and every line and number had a distinct and true meaning.
The authors of this project where outstanding in their time and today we still find their work inspiring and humbling. The highlight of this project is the concrete double barrel vault covering the court designed by Eduardo Torroja. For decades he was probably the world’s leading authority in concrete structures. His task was to design a vault with no intermediate pillars that was cheap and fast to build. The outstanding outcome was only 8 cm thick and had the largest span in Europe at the time.
Understanding the project through plans and sections was eventually not enough so we thought it would be interesting to do a short film. After building a 3d model purely based in original pictures of the 30’s we worked in collaboration with musician Santiago Abadía in order to achieve a mysterious, elegant and evocative mood, trying to recreate the atmosphere before a Jai Alai match. After some months work it was a pleasure to finally be able to get a hint of how one would have felt like in 1935 in this superb space. We hope you enjoy it.
To learn more about Kudu Architects: kuduarchitects.com