Telefónica HQ gets new lease of life

21st January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Offices are being converted into giant technological store and exhibition space.

21 January 2008

MADRID - Goyito, the ghost who lives on the ninth floor of Gran Vía 28, is down on his luck. The phantom is about to lose his peace of mind. Former state-owned telecoms company Telefónica, which owns the whole building, is refurbishing its landmark headquarters and turning it into a giant store and exhibition area. What was once the tallest skyscraper in Spain is undergoing a remodelling process to convert it into the biggest technological shopping centre in Spain, with a total area of 8,000 square meters.

These are the plans currently underway after the chiefs of Telefónica decreed that the staff would move last fall to a new headquarters in Las Tablas, leaving the historical Gran Vía building nearly empty. Built between 1926 and 1929, Edificio Telefónica was for many years Spain's tallest building, standing at over 88 metres.

At the time, the Spanish telephone company was a branch of the American ITT (International Telephone and Telegraph), and so the building was originally designed by the prominent architect Lewis S. Weeks and finished off by the Spaniard Ignacio de Cárdenas. Because of its great height, it was used as an observation point by the republican side during the Civil War.

Now Telefónica wants to use this space in the heart of Madrid's downtown shopping area to create a flagship store. The concept is imported from the United States, where the biggest companies - whether they sell clothes, music or the latest electronic goods - often open a giant store on a main street with the goal of not just selling products, but also of creating a recognisable brand image.

That is why the concept of the store is mixed with that of exhibition space. Some of the most famous examples are the Apple computer store on New York's 14th Street, or the megastores opened across the globe by Nokia and Prada.

The Spanish company's project is due to completely remodel the first four floors to create a cultural-technological-commercial space while respecting the original design, as the building is a protected historical landmark. The eight upper floors will continue to house office space. It will be hands down the telecoms giant's biggest retail space in all of Spain.

Once it is open, customers will not only be able to purchase Telefónica products and hire its services there, but also try them out before leaving the store. The second floor will house the Telecommunications Museum, an interactive affair loosely based on La Caixa's successful Science Museum, but focusing strictly on the subject of telecommunications. This area will also host an auditorium for audiovisual projections.

The third and fourth floors will be devoted to temporary exhibitions similar to the ones currently on show inside the building, except that instead of 800 square meters, there will be 2,000 square meters of show space. Last year, 170,000 people visited the Fundación Telefónica exhibitions featuring work from the father of video art, the Korean Nam June Paik, the Chinese performance artist Zhang Huan and the 1940s photographer Luis Ramón Marín.

Work is already underway, and the store is slated to be open by this summer, while the rest of the project will have to wait until the end of the year. Although the company is keeping quiet about it, it is trying to make the store opening coincide with a significant commercial event: the arrival of the iPhone in Spain, Apple's successful handset.

Once the entire project is completed, all floors will be connected with mechanical staircases in order to give a sense of continuity. Also, customers will once again be able to walk in through the main doors on Gran Vía, instead of the side door on Valverde street. Until now, that entrance was reserved for major occasions such as a visit by the royals.

So it looks like Goyito, the friendly ghost with the monocle who lives on the ninth floor, is about to get a lot of new company.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / RAMÓN MUÑOZ 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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