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The Building

The Hanging Houses over the Huécar River

Hanging Houses

The Museo de Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca finds its home in the Casas Colgadas, or "Hanging Houses," which were transferred to the museum by the municipal government. "We did not intend to create a historical museum, but rather a space that would offer a unique, superior experience for its visitors that in many ways would be ground-breaking," explained its creator, Fernando Zóbel. After pointing out that it was perhaps unprecedented among museums of abstract art because of its privileged location in houses suspended above the cliff wall overlooking the Huécar River, the painter indicated that its designer, Gustavo Torner, could apply a series of theoretical approaches regarding the construction of museums owing to the fortuitous circumstance that they could freely plan the layout of the building almost in its entirety. The results were unqualifiably positive, for instance "in the effort to present only one painting or work in isolation, assuring that each has the specific type of illumination it requires."

The buildings are known variously in Spanish as las Casas Colgadas (or Colgantes), las Casas Voladas ("The Jutting Houses"), and las Casas del Rey ("The King's Houses"). They preserve some of the historical features of the original buildings, including part of a staircase, a late Gothic arch, and a coffered ceiling in the Mudéjar style, but otherwise they have been almost entirely reconstructed with pine beams and rafters, stone masonry, and plaster, with balconies projecting out from the building. We know that, rather than isolated buildings, the original Hanging Houses were an urban conglomeration that was an integral part of the city. It is also known that one of these buildings was occupied at the end of the fifteenth century by one Gonzalo González de Cañamares, and that the municipal government acquired the first of these buildings in 1905, for the price of 1500 pesetas. They remained abandoned and in ruins, however, despite several attempts at reconstructing them in the twentieth century, until these three adjoining buildings were finally restored, one of them intended as a restaurant.

The restoration was carried out by the local architects Fernando Barja and Francisco León Meler. Barja also designed plans for the expansion of the museum, which was re-inaugurated on 28 November 1978, with contributions from the Caja Provincial de Ahorros de Cuenca, the provincial government of Cuenca, and the municipal government itself.

Following the Fundación Juan March's assumption of control over the museum, that institution has overseen a number of improvements and renovations, created rooms for temporary exhibitions, and restored the coffered ceiling of the room known as the Sala de Gonzalo González de Cañamares, in which original features of the fifteenth-century building are preserved to this day.

Brief historical note on the Casas Colgadas, by Pedro Miguel Ibáñez Martínez