Many contemporary office buildings look like monuments to conformity. In ages past, however, especially in the world’s great cities, architects built offices that were downright palatial.
Take the Academy of Commercial and Industrial Unions on Madrid’s Gran Via. Built in 1924, it has all the hallmarks of the neoclassical style: towering Greco-Roman columns, a dramatic domed roof, a marble grand staircase, and according to a history of the structure, “a succession of arches reminiscent of the Monterrey Palace in Salamanca.”
By the turn of the new millennium, the landmark building—by then an employment office—had seen better days. Thanks to a painstaking renovation, it’s enjoying new life as the Casino Gran Via. The resort is operated by the Comar Group, which owns 36 casinos and gaming halls around the world, including 10 in Spain.
It took a lot of work. “The building was run down, but we fell in love with it,” says Aleksey Belinskiy, studio leader at the Amsterdam office of Steelman Partners, architects for the project. “The attention to detail and the amount of craftsmanship that went into these buildings are just incredible.”
That includes a center atrium that soars up to a stained glass skylight. The skylight solved a problem for the architects, says Belinskiy: “Urban casinos are challenging to build, because they often end up on two to three levels. It’s hard to move people up and down, so the visual connection between various levels is critical.”
The skylight, by Parisian glassmaker Maumejean and original to the building, instantly draws the eye upward. And it’s especially striking at night. “We backlit it and frontlit it with a special LED mesh that creates almost an interactive video effect,” says Belinskiy. “It’s spectacular.”
Throughout the renovation, many elements of the 90-year-old building had to be brought up to code or otherwise restored. “The existing concrete slab would not support the required load, and most of the floors had to be restructured. Because of all the systems that go inside the ceiling cavities, it was pretty challenging to keep the ceilings high and also maintain some of the design elements we wanted. Much of the decorative trim and molding had to be replaced. It was really hands-on site administration.”
The work has paid off. The former municipal office building, set along one of Europe’s most famous thoroughfares, has become a world-class entertainment center “in the style of the grand palaces of Russia and Paris,” says Belinskiy.
The street level features a café, reception area, game room with 65 slot machines, and a cocktail bar and lounge. The mezzanine includes a baccarat room with an Asian motif; gaming tables with American roulette, blackjack and poker; a traditional Basque restaurant operated by Chef Jesús Santos; and a gourmet Champagnería.
On the third floor is the opulent ballroom, now a gaming floor lit by eight-foot chandeliers.
“It’s one of the most beautiful spaces in Europe,” says Belinskiy. “When we first walked into that room, I realized we had this absolute jewel in the middle of Gran Via, and nobody knew about it. We were excited to see it restored, not just for business reasons but from an architectural point of view. It felt right that we had a chance to give this building a new, re-energized look.”
Comar Group Director General Javier García says Casino Gran Via, which opened in December 2013, was built “with the aim of contributing to the revitalization of leisure and tourism in Madrid. The iconic building, the team of excellent professionals, the facilities and the exclusive design make the Casino Gran Via a leisure experience of reference in Europe.”
The old office building “was a great find,” says Belinskiy. “And it really is breathtaking.”
Owner: Comar Group
Project Design: Steelman Partners Europe
Area: 14,800 square feet
Investment: $18.8 million