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Museum in Spain unveils $202m modernist annex

Big tourism draw needed the space

MADRID -- The Prado museum unveiled a modernist new annex of red brick, granite, oak, and marble yesterday, giving a first look at sorely needed exhibition space for one of Spain's main tourist attractions.

Designed by architect Rafael Moneo, the new space offers visitors plenty of natural light and blends in discreetly with the original gallery, built in the early 19th century.

The sober addition completes the first phase of the planned expansion of the Prado, which is considered to have the world's richest store of pre-20th-century masters, including Velazquez, Rubens, El Greco, and Goya.

Moneo gave journalists a guided tour of the complex before Culture Minister Carmen Calvo formally declared the construction work finished. The annex will not be open to the public until fall.

Extension work began in 2001 with a budget of $56.7 million and was scheduled to be finished in 23 months.

The building, however, took more than five years and $202 million to complete.

"We have finished the biggest extension to the Prado in its more than 200 years of existence. It was a question of modernizing the Prado in harmony with its past," Calvo said.

The complex adds 183,000 square feet to the 312,000-square-foot museum.

Among its special features are 15,070 square feet of temporary exhibition space as well as print and drawing rooms that will allow the gallery to display 1,000 Goya prints that are in storage.

The centerpiece of the extension is a space for a sculpture built from the relocated cloister of a church, a work that sheds daylight on exhibition spaces three floors below.

"This extension lets the Prado breathe. It brings us in line with other major modern museums," said Gabriel Finaldi, the museum's director of conservation.

Finaldi said the extension would free up 40 rooms in the museum's original building.

The new exhibition space is connected by underground passageways to the original building.