Tuesday, 17 October 2023, 10:38
It was a building which "brought Marbella into another era". These are the words of Manuel Jaén about the project his father, the architect Manuel Jaén Albaitero, completed in 1963. Today it stands in front of Fontanilla beach as one of the great architectural emblems of the Costa del Sol and as a topographical reference in the municipality. "It's near the Skol," as is often heard among Marbella's residents, who tend to orientate themselves more by its buildings than by the name of its streets.
The building was originally made up of three blocks with 230 rooms of different types, forming an open enclosure on the side facing the beach. The space between the buildings resolves the encounters with the topography and the leisure areas, combining volumetry with the harmony of the material details. It was built on a dune ecosystem at a time when there was not even a promenade. Nearby, before reaching the Hotel el Fuerte, there was only the Torre de Marbella, a building which, with its nine floors, was more notable for its size than for its architectural value.
"The taller body incorporates aspects from Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation de Marseille", including the flats at different heights, some duplexes, the 'brise-soleil' of the façade (sunshades) and the sculptural staircase outside the main building, "which caused quite a few problems at the time," explained his son, also an architect and whose legacy is continued by his nephew Ivan at the head of Estudio Jaén.
A friend of Jorge Oteiza and a founding member of the Northern Group of Gatepac, a pioneering group of rationalist architects, Manuel Jaén Albaitero was born in Valle del Baztán (Navarre) in 1913 and had a great calling for painting from an early age. During his years as an architecture student in Madrid he worked in the studio of Carlos Arniches. "He also drew for La Codorniz magazine. He was a close friend of Chumy Chúmez," recalled his son. He built his first residential building in Calle Guzmán el Bueno. His works in collaboration with Antonio Bonet stand out from this period, such as the Banco de Madrid project. But his most famous work has to be on the Costa del Sol.
On his arrival at Malaga, together with Bonet, he developed the Los Naranjos tourist complex in Torremolinos, whose tourist planning was then more advanced than that of Marbella, and where he simultaneously designed a project for the development of Puerto Banús, which would not done in the end. Before Skol, in Marbella he built the Valdecantos building, the Cortijo Blanco in San Pedro, the Carihuela Palace and the San Fermín flats.
"My father didn't care much about earning the stripes," said his son, who acknowledged that Skol was "a much-loved project".
"The Skol building is one of the few buildings from that era that we can say has been well preserved," explained architect Roberto Barrios of the Barrios/Cepedano architectural practice in Marbella. "It is an example of what a good developer and a good architect can do together."
This was the case of Manuel Jaén and Rafael Zea Morales. The latter first visited Marbella in 1954, shortly after the opening of the Marbella Club Hotel. Following the example of his friend Miguel García Rico, promoter of the hotel and the Cortijo Blanco urbanisation, his first development was the Torre de Marbella (1960), then notable for the height of its nine storeys and 137 flats, which would go on to be less successful than his next project, the Skol building.
Subsequently, he built the flats and premises of Nueva Marbella, located on Avenida Ricardo Soriano. On the ground floor of one of these blocks he would install the Lolita cafeteria which, years later, under different owners, would become the Siete Puertas, one of the most popular restaurants in Marbella. In Calle Jacinto Benavente, he would plan the Urbanización de la Haza, which he connected with Calle Valentuñana, where he would construct the building under his name. According to the historian Fernando Alcalá, "this residential development was exchanged for the Cortijo Blanco hotel by the then young businessman José María Ruiz Mateos".
His largest urban development project was Las Lomas del Marbella Club. One of his last works was a residential building on Calle Camilo José Cela, just behind his best known work, the Skol building, his most enduring legacy.
"It is one of the few pieces that has not been altered much, except for the lower part of the Da Bruno restaurant, which is a disaster, the rest is in great shape. It has withstood the remodelling of the avenue leading to the promenade, which used to be bigger and had a much more touristy flag front. That whole area, next to the car park, has been shrinking. It has worsened the environment, not the building. Imagine if this had happened to the Don Pepe hotel," explained Roberto Barrios, a local architect and one of the great connoisseurs of Manuel Jaén's work.
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