On 6 May, 1910, one of the most productive cultural experiences in the history of Spain and Europe began, where Lorca, Dalí and Buñuel, among others formed what became known as Generation of ’27
It is surprising to think that, in the same space, universal figures such as Lorca, Dalí, Buñuel, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Ortega y Gasset, Alberti, Machado, Marie Curie, Valéry, Claudel and Le Corbusier coincided, but this actually happened. The Residencia de Estudiantes, an institution founded on 6 May 1910, went from being an intellectual experiment to one of the greatest centres of debate and cultural creation in the history of Spain and in Europe’s interwar period.
At the heart of the Residencia de Estudiantes is the work of Francisco Giner de los Ríos and his revolutionary educational ideas. Influenced by Krausist philosophy – which defended the freedom to teach and the right of teachers to express their ideas in spite of censorship that existed through the power of the State and the church – and after being expelled from the university, he founded, together with a group of other teachers, the Institución Libre de Enseñanza in 1876. His objective would be a radical transformation of society, focusing on the integral education of the person without political ties, obeying a certain style of life and thought. Its principles helped to set up, in 1900, the Ministry of Public Instruction and Fine Arts, dedicated to teaching; and, in 1907, in the Board for Further Studies and Scientific Research, presided over by Santiago Ramón y Cajal. The Residencia de Estudiantes came from the latter institution.
From 14 Fortuny Street to Poplar Hill
Inspired by the British colleges, with residential centres for students, Ramón y Cajal and his secretary, José Castillejo, put their faith in the Malaga-based Alberto Jiménez Fraud to start the project. The space chosen was a chalet at 14 Fortuny Street in Madrid, to accommodate the small number of initial students. Following the Royal Decree of 6 May 1910, by which the Residencia de Estudiantes was founded, the Residencia de Estudiantes opened its doors on 1 October of the same year, with a capacity for 15 residents. Among the first were Jorge Guillén, Miguel Prados and Pere Bosch Gimpera.
At “El 14” -as they called it-, activities aimed at the integral formation of the individual were the order of the day, from conferences and gatherings, to sports, theatre and cinema. The increase in interest and the need for more space led them to rent four adjacent hotels and another one on Rafael Calvo Street to accommodate more students. The final expansion took place in 1913, with the construction of new buildings on the Cerro de los Vientos, near the old racetrack, which Juan Ramón Jiménez would name the “Hill of the Poplars”.
The work was carried out by the architect Antonio Flórez Urdapilleta in the Neo-Mudejar style. Three pavilions were built, totalling almost 100 rooms, laboratories were on the lower floor; and there was a central pavilion, known as “La Casa”, which housed the offices, conference rooms, dining room and some bedrooms. They moved there in 1915, the same year that the women’s group of the Residencia de Estudiantes, called Residencia de Señoritas, was created. It was run by the teacher María de Maeztu, and it used the buildings vacated by the male students.
The intellectual centre of Europe and the origin of the Generation of ’27
A multitude of disciplines and personalities came together at the Residencia de Estudiantes, making it an unprecedented creative laboratory and a forum for intellectual debate in Europe. Thanks to the students who lived there, such as Lorca, Prados, Dalí, Buñuel, Severo Ochoa and García-Pelayo; those who visited such as Alberti, Salinas, Juan Ramón Jiménez and Antonio Machado; and those who participated in its seminars, conferences, debates and concerts, such as Louis Aragon, Manuel de Falla, Paul Claudel, Max Jacob, Le Corbusier, Paul Éluard, Paul Valéry, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Arthur Eddington, Maurice Ravel, J. M. Keynes and Igor Stravinsky.
But if there was one class that stood out, that was the residents between 1920 and 1927, years in which García Lorca, Salvador Dalí, Emilio Prados, Luis Buñuel, Pepín Bello and other Spanish geniuses coincided. An interdisciplinary mix of poetry, painting, cinema, theatre along with other studies that provided those who became known as the famous Generation of ’27 with enormous cultural wealth. Which the Colombian writer Alvaro Mutis referred to as “the fertile miracle of the Spanish spirit”.
Disruption of the project and the recovery of democracy
In the 1930s and the tumultuous reality of Spain the Residencia de Estudiantes provoked criticism from both right and left sectors, as it was incompatible with the pressures of power and totalitarianism. The outbreak of the civil war interrupted the project for almost 50 years. During the conflict, the Residence was converted into a school for poor children and war orphans, the headquarters of the Republican militia division “La Motorizada” and, from 1937 to 1939, into the Carabineros hospital, one of the key facilities from which a malaria epidemic was stopped and treated at the height of the civil war. When the conflict ended and Franco’s dictatorship started, its facilities were controlled by the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), and its intellectual legacy fell into oblivion. It would have to wait until 1986, when democracy was fully restored, to recover its name and spirit.
Currently, the Residence -which continues to host students and seminar participants for short periods of time- houses an important archive of the Generation of ’27 and the thoughts of incredible minds from the beginning of 20th century Spain, the “silver age” of contemporary Spanish culture. Among others, it holds manuscripts, essays, photographs and the personal library of Luis Cernuda, Lorca’s personal correspondence, drawings and writing.