Antonio Palacios. 150 years

Antonio Palacios, an essential figure in the history of Spanish architecture, left an undeniable mark on the city of Madrid and an immense legacy in our underground. On the 150th anniversary of his birth, we take a look back over his career in order to promote his work and discover his most personal side.

His role

Antonio Palacios is renowned for his influential contributions to Modernist and Rationalist architecture in Spain. His early 20th-century buildings continue to be a prominent feature of Madrid's skyline. As a witness to a period of substantial change, he significantly contributed to Madrid's renewal and modernization, designing several of the city’s most iconic structures. He was also responsible for the design and aesthetic of the first subway lines, the organisation of their entrances, the Metro’s distinctive diamond logo, and many other projects.

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  • intro

    Legacy in Metro

    Antonio Palacios left an indelible legacy in Metro de Madrid. His influence endures as an architectural legacy and contributes to the identity of the city. Examples include the logo, totems, access points, stations of the first line and pavilions.

  • logo

    Logo

    Palacios drew inspiration from the London Underground’s logo, preserving its clarity, simplicity and dynamism, but he replaced the circle with a diamond and kept the original colours. The design has evolved since its inception, but its most notable transformation came in the 1980s, leading to the logo we know today, an iconic symbol of Madrid.

  • totem

    The totem

    Initially, the totem served a crucial role as a conspicuous marker to signal the location of the stations. It was designed as a tall monolith, easily recognisable from afar and also illuminated at night. Its design, also by Palacios, drew inspiration from the Paris Metro.

  • accesos

    Accesses

    Antonio Palacios also designed the entrances to the subway stations, opting for a straightforward design where a street-level staircase led passengers to the underground hall. These entrances featured an external railing, which varied between wrought iron, granite, or a mix of both. In her book “Antonio Palacios. Metro and Metropolis”, Susana Olivares notes that the rationale behind choosing a specific style is not entirely clear and might relate to factors such as the station’s grandeur, the intricacy of its layout or the space available.

  • templete

    The pavilions

    Among the most characteristic elements of Palacios' work are the pavilions that gave access to the Sol and Gran Vía stations. These structures, inaugurated in 1920, were made of glass and metal and featured an eye-catching cantilevered canopy. Their modern, sophisticated lines and the lifts they included made them a true reference point.

  • primeras estaciones

    The first stations

    The signature style of Palacios in designing the first stations is evident in the vaults adorned with bevelled white tiles and coats of arms and vibrant Sevillian ceramic stripes with copper and gold accents. His objective was to endow the stations with an aesthetic of their own, striving to make them as bright and lively as possible.

Podcast

Family members, experts, and conservators of his work provide diverse insights into Palacios' life and his transformative impact on the city of Madrid.

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Professional, passionate, generous and visionary

Much has been written about the work of Antonio Palacios and his enormous influence, yet his personal life remains less explored. In this piece, we delve into some of the more private facets of his life.

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Antonio Palacios
Portrait of Antonio Palacios in 1911. ABC Archive

Marked since childhood

Antonio Palacios, born in Porriño, Pontevedra, grew up amidst construction sites, immersed in blueprints, tools, iron and granite.
His early exposure to the sketches of bridges, carts and tunnels from the Portuguese railways, where his father worked as a public works assistant, influenced him profoundly, as did his frequent visits to the granite quarries in Atios and Budiño, owned by his maternal family.
This left an indelible mark on him and his vision of architecture. When faced with the choice of becoming an engineer or an architect, legend has it that a coin toss decided his fate, leading him to become Madrid’s most iconic and influential architect.

Painter before architect

Antonio Palacios is widely known for his monumental and distinctive architectural works, but there’s a less familiar aspect to him: his role as a drawer and painter, creator of a plethora of watercolours, paintings and sketches.

Many of these pieces are fieldworks related to his architecture, but they also reflect rural and urban landscapes. Indeed, before embarking on his architectural studies, Palacios contemplated a career in painting, attending drawing classes with the esteemed painter Eduardo Rosales. His talent was evident and continued to shine throughout his architectural career, especially in his natural aptitude for creating spontaneous designs.

Beyond architecture, he sketched human figures, animals, and costumbrist scenes, reflecting his deep interest in painting—a pursuit he maintained privately, as evidenced by several of his works housed in the Museum of Pontevedra, the Monastery of Poio and in various private collections.

pintura
1921 watercolour by Antonio Palacios (photo caption)

A unique teacher

He also served as a drawing teacher at the Higher School of Arts and Industries and taught architectural detail design at the Madrid School of Architecture.

His ability to swiftly and skilfully create architectural drawings often left his students in awe. His classes were spectacular; he insisted his students draw daily to develop a natural and automatic skill in their craft. He even took some of his students on a trip to Egypt to observe the majestic Pharaonic structures.

His relatives noted that he excelled “because he lived for architecture: he fully embraced it with a poetic, literary and artistic vision. He approached it as something innate. His initial step in any project was to construct a wall, around which he would gather craftsmen, stonemasons and workers, illustrating his vision by drawing the details on the spot, in life-size scale. A pencil, chalk or charcoal was an extension of himself”.

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Antonio Palacios working in his studio (photo caption)

A decisive friendship

During his years of study, Antonio Palacios not only gained academic knowledge but also made a lifelong friend and long-term business partner: Joaquín Otamendi.

Together, they collaborated on Palacios’s initial major architectural projects, including the Telecommunications Palace, the Caryatids Palace and the Maudes Hospital. While their professional paths eventually diverged, Otamendi soon after played a pivotal role in Palacios’s career progression. This was particularly evident when the Society for the Construction of the Alfonso XIII Metropolitan was established, marking one of the era’s most ambitious projects.

Miguel Otamendi, Joaquín's brother and a prominent member of this Society, recommended his brother’s friend and partner for the project. This led to Antonio Palacios being named the chief architect of the Madrid Metro.

White as a solution

In all of Antonio Palacios’s Metro constructions, particular attention, as noted by Susana Olivares, should be given to the stations’ bright, white tiles. This design choice was deliberately made to counteract any feelings of claustrophobia, suffocation or anxiety that people at the time might have felt when going underground, especially given that the lighting intensity back then was not as strong as it is today. Also for this reason, the stations were built relatively close to the surface, and many of their halls featured skylights.

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Refurbished hall of the old Pacífico Station

Palacios, a unique and incomparable traveller

In some of his writings and project memoirs, Antonio Palacios recounts his travels through France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Greece, Egypt and others, highlighting his frequent visits to England. 
His vivid creative persona, enriched by his eclectic education, enabled him to blend or gather inspirations from a range of sources. This led to the creation of a distinctive, diverse and complex body of work that challenges conventional classifications. His legacy is unique and irreplaceable.

His humble end

He was known for his remarkable generosity, often undertaking projects without charge. The mere enthusiasm of those who commissioned the work sometimes determined whether he would ask for payment. 
Despite his prominent stature and significant achievements, he was notably humble. This humility was evident in his later years, which saw a transition from a time of glory to near obscurity. He spent his final years living in a studio, in a tiny space. A modest construction he had built on Carretera de El Plantío, where his life came to an end.

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Antonio Palacios's last home in El Plantío, Madrid

Antonio Palacios was the architect behind several of Madrid's most emblematic buildings.

El Mapa de Palacios

Velázquez
3555
Gran Vía
4178
Gran Vía
4178
Marqués de Vadillo
3736
Pacífico
3680
Pacífico
3680
Menéndez Pelayo
3679
Tirso de Molina
3536
Retiro
3542
Banco de España
3694
Banco de España
3694
Banco de España
3694
Banco de España
3694
Sol
3548
Sevilla
3543
Argüelles
3545
Iglesia
3533
Cuatro Caminos
3538
Cuatro Caminos
3538
Quevedo
3698
Gran Vía
4178
Marqués de Vadillo
3736
Argüelles
3545
Velázquez
3555
Quevedo
3698
Retiro
3542
Sevilla
3543
Banco de España
3694
Banco de España
3694
Banco de España
3694
Banco de España
3694
Iglesia
3533
Tirso de Molina
3536
Pacífico
3680
Pacífico
3680
Menéndez Pelayo
3679
Cuatro Caminos
3538
Cuatro Caminos
3538
Gran Vía
4178
Gran Vía
4178
Gran Vía
4178
Sol
3548
Sol
3548

The Palacios map

Madrid, as it stands today, owes much to the legacy of Antonio Palacios. His architectural contributions were crucial to the city's urban development in the first half of the 20th century.

You can tour the most iconic buildings of Palacios's Madrid via different Metro stations. Select a station to learn about the notable works surrounding it.

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Stations

Stations with works by Antonio Palacios nearby

  • Argüelles
  • Banco de España
  • Cuatro Caminos
  • Gran Vía
  • Iglesia
  • Marqués de Vadillo
  • Menéndez Pelayo
  • Pacífico
  • Quevedo
  • Retiro
  • Sevilla
  • Sol
  • Tirso de Molina
  • Velázquez

Antonio Palacios in detail

Steel and glass structures, a prevalence of verticality, simple finishes, the incorporation of ceramics and white tiles in decor... Palacios consistently employed these elements in the majority of his designs. Over time, these features came to be recognised as the hallmarks of the architect’s work.

How much do you know about Antonio Palacios?

A walk through the history of Antonio Palacios, where we will see his works and his legacy in the city of Madrid.

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