Being Paul Newman

In the mid-sixties, José María Santos Rein and Alberto López Palanco received the invitation to participate in a contest of ideas to implement a hotel in a plot of Marbella. They won because they understood how to take advantage of the project. With an absolutely contemporary attitude, they respected two blocks that were on the plot, in the structure phase. Their proposal was a tower between the two existing pieces.

Then the winners found out that Hilton International was behind the commission. José María and Alberto began to develop a project of great technical complexity with hardly any precedents in the province. A young Alberto accompanied by his wife worked in New York for two months preparing the project with a team of American architects. At the same time, José María tried to overcome the obstacles that the administration at that time posed with zeal: in this case the Ministry of Information and Tourism directed by Manuel Fraga.

Completed the work, the building was successfully opened with a lot of impact in the press. After four decades, the hotel is still in good condition today despite successive changes of owner. The tower anchors the proposal in the landscape and allows to occupy less surface and thus, keep the pine forest. “In the seventies, when we were returning from Torremolinos, the lighted tower of the Hilton stood out among the pines and announced that we were already in Marbella,” a friend told me recently. This tower also generates a certain scenography with the car’s arrival, a feature of the modernity of the proposal. His V-pillars, designed by Rafael López Palanco, Alberto’s engineer and brother, are as indebted to Nervi as to Le Corbusier. Two decades before Rafael Moneo used the same solution at Atocha station, Santos Rein and López Palanco hid all the fittings within those pillars. And faced with a problem for which they had no information or references, the fire regulations, devised an innovative system by placing a huge cistern on the roof that also served as a backdrop for the name of the hotel.

When the Windsor building in Madrid caught fire a few years ago, Genaro Alas, its author, was asked if he could have avoided it. “We are not Paul Newman,” Alas replied ironically, referring to the intervention of Doug Roberts, the architect embodied by Newman in “The towering inferno.” And certainly architects are not Paul Newman, except perhaps Santos Rein and López Palanco, who even anticipated Hollywood in the construction of a building that is part of the memory and heritage of the Costa del Sol.

Written in September 2015. Published in December 2016.