A row has broken out in Spain over plans by Chinese developer Dalian Wanda to demolish an iconic office block in Madrid’s central business district.
The España building is 25-storey structure built in 1953 on an entire block in the Spanish capital.
It had been disused for eight years when Dalian Wanda bought it last June, and had fallen into a derelict condition.
The building, which was owned by the Santander banking group, was sold to the Chinese group for $300m on the condition that the facade and the side walls be retained in any future redevelopment.
The Chinese plan was to turn the office into a luxury hotel, a shopping centre and a set of luxury apartments.
However, after a structural survey, Dalian Wanda announced that the condition of the building’s outer skin was so poor that it would need to be demolished and rebuilt stone by stone.
The row is whether this is, in fact, necessary. Cristina Guardia, a Spanish architect working for a Barcelona-based studio, told China Daily: "It’s a complicated project that needs exhaustive structural calculations. I personally do not think a total demolition is needed. An interior restructuring could be enough to keep the facade."
The controversy has entered the realm of municipal politics, with Michael Qiao, a senior executive with Dalian Wanda, agreeing to set up a special commission with the city council to discuss the architectural details of the project.
The spokesperson for the council said: "The commission will discuss how to save Wanda’s big investment in Madrid on condition that the project benefits the citizens and does not cost city hall a single euro."
According to China Daily, Dalian Wanda is considering another real estate megaproject in the capital. Manuela Carmena, the mayor of Madrid, said: "The new investment could be 10 times bigger than the disbursement of the España Square operation."
Photograph: The España building on the right was Europe’s tallest structure in 1953 (Wikimedia Commons)