The New York of the Mediterranean never sleeps either. The Alicante city of Benidorm (70,000 residents in the census, and many more in summer) already has everything ready to inaugurate the largest residential skyscraper in Europe. 198 meters that house 256 apartments and that were about to become one of the most monumental fiascos of the real estate bubble at the beginning of the century. The Intempo building, two towers joined by a huge diamond-cone at the top, is about to receive the completion certificate and EL PAÍS is the first media guest to visit the property after completion of the works.
PHOTO GALLERY | This is Intempo, the tallest residential skyscraper in Europe
Operarios de Dragados, the construction company appointed to complete the project, still direct the traffic in the interior, where the last cleaning tasks are combined with a certain number of visits to the pilot flats. But getting here has taken many years. During the trip, the fifth tallest skyscraper in Spain (behind the four towers of Madrid, all of them office) has had to overcome two tremendous crises. Actually, the second is still grappling with. The delivery of the first homes is expected in September and only 40% of the flats are sold. “It is a low percentage compared to what had been planned, but in 2020 the clients could not travel,” explains Jorge Romagosa, Product Manager of the developer Uniq, while predicting a good summer: “Now that it is finished The reception has been very good ”.
If Intempo evokes the ability to withstand the hazards of time, the name could not be better chosen. The skyscraper is proof of Benidorm’s resilience. In the same way that the city is unable to go unnoticed when approaching by road or sea, its urban model has not left anyone indifferent for six decades. Almost 80 towers exceed 25 floors and 27 of them exceed 100 meters in the profile of the most recognizable city on the Mediterranean coast. The architect Oscar Tusquets, who dedicated an exhibition to the municipality that he took to London, is one of its greatest defenders: “Benidorm is a lucky invention of a mayor [Pedro Zaragoza] with an incredible vision of the future ”, he praises on the other end of the phone,“ he saw that tourism was going to take another path and Benidorm was invented with a level urban planner. The bad thing has been the copies ”.
A singular model
The “invention” began in 1956 with an urban plan that privileged high-rise buildings and, for the Catalan architect, gave rise to “the most interesting modern city in the Mediterranean, the one that has provided the best solution for mass tourism.” So what is the cause of a certain bad reputation? “Some left, the workers do not like very much and these from Manchester [el Reino Unido] who get drunk in Benidorm cause them some discomfort. Not to me, they amuse me a lot ”, he replies with a laugh. When putting the magnifying glass, Tusquets adds, “it can be said that Benidorm does not have buildings of a very high architectural quality, but it has quite a few very well resolved”. The new skyscraper, he points out, is of structural interest to him: “On edge it has a spectacular slenderness.”
If in profile it almost seems that the Intempo wants to hide, the frontal view from the beach reveals the size of the mass. On a mound 200 meters from the sea – in the orography of Poniente beach, the city soon climbs in the direction of Puig Campana – it takes half a length to the two towers in front of it. On the same beach is the Gran Hotel Bali, which at 186 meters was the tallest building in Spain for a few years, while on the Levante beach the Torre Lugano stands out, still the tallest inhabited complex with 158 meters, or the Neguri Gane, an example of brutalist architecture signed by the Pérez-Guerras architecture studio, the same one that designed the Intempo and has collaborated with its new owners in the remodeling.
But Benidorm is an icon in itself, more than a container of iconic buildings, something that for the architect José María Ezquiaga, National Prize for Urbanism in 2005, would not make sense. “The most relevant thing is the urban landscape as a whole, I think it would be a mistake to make singular buildings”, he points out, “the most relevant thing is to take care of the street, the gardens, the beach …”. It is in these spaces where the urban model of Benidorm flourishes, a flow of people and leisure options that have turned the old fishing village into a “sanctuary” for elderly tourists and have placed it “in the imaginary of the working middle classes of Europe ”.
Ezquiaga declares himself a “disciple” of the sociologist Mario Gaviria: “He is considered a father of environmentalism and he always understood that this model of occupying the coast was better than an extensive occupation”, recalls the architect. “The idea of Gaviria was not to turn the entire coast into a Benidorm”, he abounds, “but with a few Benidorm, it was possible to satisfy the needs of tourism and save many other places on the coast. Unfortunately the Spanish model has not been that ”. But there is a more than notorious example that things could have been different: “The most significant thing is that Benidorm has maintained its vitality,” says the urban planner.
15 years of construction
Resisting six decades is not easy, and neither has the trajectory of the last skyscraper to arrive in the city. As in any good story from the bubble years, the Intempo building does not lack the legend of a scribble on a napkin as the starting gun. It began to rise in 2006 and had as main partners José Ignacio de la Serna, who died in 2015, and Isidro Bononat. The two local businessmen ended up fighting and their management was judicially condemned, for which they were held responsible to the creditors. Before that, the hot potato had reached the Society of Assets from Bank Restructuring, the Sareb or bad bank, where the promoter loan that Caixa Galicia (later NovaCaixa Galicia, now Abanca) had granted and was presumed to have ended. very difficult collection.
“We were struck by the fact that a Galician savings bank carried out a promotion of this magnitude outside its geographical scope,” says a source from Sareb involved in the project. The bad bank, remember, could not act: it had only received the debt, the property belonged to Olga Urbana, the original developer. “They had spent 100% of the loan, but they had only built 93%,” he describes. With the top of the cone unfinished, he says, there was not only danger that Intempo would end up in a huge financial hole, but also “physical risk” if the structure deteriorated. The bad bank requested the necessary bankruptcy for an administrator appointed by the judge to oversee the works and injected liquidity to finish the construction. In 2017 he sold the loan to the SVP Global investment fund for 108 million, which later asserted his rights at auction and it is, until the apartments begin to be titled, the owner of 100% of the building, which he remodeled and sold with the help of Uniq.
Both gave an end to the story that is presumed happy with the apartments almost ready to move into. They all have covered terraces facing the sea. On the ground floors it is impossible to ignore Benidorm; As you go up, only the characteristic islet off the coast reminds you at first glance that this is the great mecca of mass tourism. A mythical name for many English people (a homonymous series garners millionaire audiences on British television) although here at the moment there are more national buyers (pandemic obliges) and Russians, French and Germans. On the roof you have to overcome vertigo and look down a lot to see the characteristic mantle of umbrellas. On the left, an excavator on another hill reminds us that in this city of rest the real estate business never rests. Perhaps it is not too late for Tusquets, who hours earlier said half jokingly half seriously that, at 80 years of age, he still has “the frustration of not having built a skyscraper in Benidorm”.