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Fortresses of Solitude

A Peek Inside the Homes of Spanish Football Stars

Joaquín Torres has become the architect of choice for the football stars of Real Madrid. Along with many of the team's players and even its coach, the famed designer lives in a Madrid suburb that feels miles away from the real world. Now he's looking for a new challenge.

Friday, 12/21/2012   04:53 PM

The Aston Martin leaves the real world at a roundabout at the La Finca exit. The car passes a small building with guards and two barriers, which mark the beginning of a park-like landscape of clipped boxwood hedges and rows of pine trees, nestled between hills and lakes. Surveillance cameras blink in the bushes. There are no pedestrians or children, or people out walking their dogs. There aren't even sidewalks.

The drive continues along an unpaved road. The gate to football star Cristiano Ronaldo's estate appears. His current team, Real Madrid, is playing an away game in the Spanish cup today, and Ronaldo isn't home. His new house, made of travertine, stands in the background, a light-brown, elongated hulk.

The Aston Martin accelerates a little and drives around a wide curve in the road, sweeping past the houses of other Real Madrid stars: Sami Khedira, Iker Casillas, Kaká, Zinédine Zidane, Guti, Míchel Salgado and Sergio Ramos. Many of the villas look identical: single-story buildings made of light-brown stone, variations of Ronaldo's house, modern and massive, a cross between "Miami Vice" and a Normandy bunker.

The car stops in front of a driveway. A trim man with light eyes, dressed in a very tight Tom Ford jacket, gets out. Joaquín Torres is one of the most famous architects in Spain. He designed much of the La Finca residential development, a utopia in northwest Madrid, where he built about 150 houses, many for the players of Real Madrid. Torres is nicknamed "builder of the white ballet" and "architect of the galactic stars."

Torres takes a few steps toward the house, turns around a little abruptly and says: "The hard part was convincing people with money to move to a new development, especially into identical houses that cost millions."

A Matter of Taste

Until a few years ago Spanish real estate developers were plastering the country with construction projects like La Finca. The development, a little more than half an hour from downtown Madrid, is exclusive, overpriced and sealed off from the outside world.

Cameras and motion detectors monitor almost every corner in La Finca. Armed guards patrol the perimeter fences and chase away paparazzi. La Finca is a landscaped fortress.

A maid opens the door into the narrow foyer of Torres' houses. Candles stand on a chest of drawers and underneath their melted wax has hardened on the floor. On the right is a small, glass-enclosed courtyard filled with pebbles. The 650-square-meter house (about 7,000-square-feet) house is available for €6 million ($7.95 million).

Torres' first football client was Fernando Hierro, Madrid's top defender for many years. Hierro hired Torres and was happy with his work. He told Raúl about the architect, and he too hired Torres to build a house for him. Raúl, in turn, talked to Zidane and Salgado, and they spoke with Guti, and eventually they all moved to La Finca. Even Real coach José Mourinho lives there, as does his advisor, Jorge Mendes. There is no such thing as footballer taste, says Torres. "They move into my houses because one of their team mates did."

We walk down a few steps from the foyer. "Just to be clear, I'm not interested in football," says Torres. He has watched only one match in his entire life, the 2002 Champions League Final in Glasgow, where Madrid defeated Bayer Leverkusen. Torres spent most of the time on the phone.

For him, Raúl is just another guy "who has no interest whatsoever in the work of an architect." He remembers that Zidane tried to bring down the price "because he thought that an architect who builds Zidane's house will be famous," says Torres. And Ronaldo, in Torres' opinion, is "a nice boy who doesn't understand that you need a staff for a 1,000-square-meter house." He gets along well with German player Khedira, who he characterizes as a quiet type. Torres once lent him his house when Khedira and his girlfriend posed half-naked for GQ Deutschland.

Torres straightens out his jacket and walks into the main living area, a large room painted brown, with five-meter ceilings. The dining room is adjacent to the living room, where modern art hangs on the walls. The floor is made of a light-colored stone. The rooms are generously proportioned, each about 100 square meters in size. The pool and a section of the garden Torres shares with Real striker Karim Benzema are visible through the large windows. The private rooms are to the left of the living room, and the kitchen and staff rooms are to the right.

Filling the Corners

A look around Torres' house provides an idea of what houses of Ronaldo, Raúl and Sergio Ramos look like. In addition to selling the players identical houses, he also furnishes them, and almost all of the players buy from him.

Torres sits down on a long, light-colored couch. "I don't just build the houses," he says. "Usually I also design the furniture to go with them."

Torres' design style isn't easy to describe. Large silver spheres with no apparent function stand in one of the corners, next to a giant antique earthenware jug from the 16th century. Cubist vases based on a high-rise project in Dubai are displayed on a shelf, along with a sculpture made of plastic hands. Torres designed many of the objects. He likes large sectionals, gigantic glass tables, Murano glass chandeliers and objects made of varnished sheet metal. Everything is heavy, massive and shiny.

Most of the players, says Torres, appreciate the offer to furnish their houses. In fact, it doesn't stop at the furniture. Basically, says Torres, they need everything. "We'll even place towels on their towel racks for them, if necessary."

It probably isn't easy for someone in his mid-20s to fill 700 or 800 or, as in the case of Ronaldo, 1,400 square meters with one's own things. In the end, the players are happy to have someone provide them a few giant silver balls; at least they'll fill a corner.

Stone and Glass Dreams

Torres walks to the main bedroom. It too is enormous. An abstract painting suggestive of a woman's face hangs above the huge bed. Two somewhat forlorn-looking designer chairs, probably never used, stand against a wall. The players' requests differ when it comes to the bedrooms, says Torres. Ronaldo, for example, has a round bed and mirrors on the ceiling.

The Spanish press loves Torres, who says, for example, that many footballers think of nothing but "cars, watches and fucking." His fellow architects despise Torres, accusing him of designing profane, pornographic architecture -- the stone-and-glass dreams of the nouveau riche.

Torres is a brilliant and confident salesman. In 1997, his father and the current Real President Florentino Pérez founded the ACS construction company. About two years ago, the company acquired German construction giant Hochtief in a hostile takeover.

Torres grew up in one of Spain's wealthiest families. He attended the private University of Navarra, an elite Christian school run by Opus Dei, for a short time. Torres, whose appearance was on the flamboyant side, struggled with theology, a compulsory subject, and other aspects of attending the school. He later transferred to a public university in Galicia, where he drove to lectures in his Porsche.

More Money than Them

When he was in his mid-20s, his father, with whom he had always had a difficult relationship, commissioned him to build the new family home. There were no limits, only the certainty that if the first attempt was a failure, he could start again from scratch. The result was a modern, 2,500-square meter palace, which David Beckham wanted to buy immediately the first time he saw it.

The house resembles the buildings in La Finca, but has the advantage of being isolated in a forested neighborhood. It's the best house Torres has ever built. He still hosts important sales meetings there, surrounded by Picassos, Tàpies and classic pieces of furniture.

"I don't know why this happened the way it did with the footballers. Perhaps I'm the first person who treats them normally," says Torres. At any rate, he is someone who has more money than they do.

Some 100 architects currently work for Torres, and he has offices in Dubai, Vietnam and Brazil. His hands are manicured, a personal trainer wakes him up in the morning, and there are sports cars, antique cars and limousines parked in his garage. He is a clever man, and footballers bore him. He is also bored by the constant questions such as, how much Kaká paid for his house. It was €7.2 million. Or how much Mourinho spent on rent: €20,000 for a 1,400-square-meter house, heat not included. In fact, even La Finca bores him. In his newest project, he is designing modern, inexpensive prefabricated houses.

Torres walks out to the garden and looks to the south from the entrance to his courtyard. His house is on the edge of the development. The sound of traffic wafts over from the real world. He has been thinking of moving away from La Finca for some time.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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