SKOL – Marbella’s modernistic 1960s icon



Everyone who lives in Marbella knows it, and most who have visited the town will have walked past this unique white building complex with SKOL written in vertical letters along the facade. The modernistic block of flats, which is one of Costa del Sol’s best examples of 1960s architecture, was a ground-breaking residential hotel project for the entire coast.

It wasn’t the first hotel in Marbella. The charming coastal town got its first hotels, Hotel Comercial and Hotel Miramar, in 1918 and 1926. Many buildings burned during the Civil War, and after the Second World War Marbella was a sleepy town of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, a fact that is quite incredible considering today’s population of 156,153).


Postcard Marbella and SKOL, 1960s. Aase Linaae’s collection


But this coastal jewel did not lay ‘undiscovered’ for long. Marbella’s Jet-Set era started in the 1950s with the arrival of a German prince. The Hohenlohe family opened the high society hotel Marbella Club in 1954, while the Hotel El Fuerte opened in 1957. Yet, modernism didn’t arrive in town until SKOL opened in 1963.





Wall with ceramic tiles. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Edifício SKOL started an architectural revolution for hotel design in Marbella and the rest of the Costa del Sol. The architects behind the new complex were Manuel Jaén Albaitero and Carlos García San Miguel, and the design was inspired by the world-renowned French architect and designer Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris). Corbusier belonged to the first generation of the so-called international school of architecture that encouraged clean geometrical forms, and one can clearly see the influence in how the buildings combine functionality with sculptural expressionism. The tallest of the three SKOL buildings with a ten-storey exterior staircase has much in common with Corbusier’s L’unité d’habitation in Marseille from 1952.


SKOL. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Perhaps the most unique feature of SKOL was that the project used modernistic design – so far completely unknown on the Costa del Sol – in the making of one of the very first apartment hotels in all of Spain. With its 300+ tourist flats, SKOL was the beginning of a new type of tourism in Marbella. This was at a time when the most significant local hotels, Los Monteros, El Fuerte, and Marbella Club, had respectively 35, 18 and 16 rooms!

The construction began in 1961 and SKOL was officially inaugurated in the fall of 1963 as Marbella’s first (by the standards of the era) enormous tourist complex. SKOL was situated on a 20,000 m2 plot by the Fontanilla beach and included three buildings constructed in a U-shape with a large central tropical garden and uninterrupted views of the Mediterranean. The hotel itself consisted of 350 flats with 580 rooms and 1230 beds. The design combined crude white walls with large glass surfaces and glazed blue tiles that echoed the sea. No design decision was made for purely aesthetical reasons – functionalism uses innovation to solve issues.


My parents at SKOL in the 1960s. Photo © Aase Linaae


My parents spent a week in SKOL in 1965 when the hotel was recently opened, as my grandfather had invited the family to celebrate his birthday in Marbella. Looking back, my mother said that it was quite isolated, with no other buildings around. SKOL was still not fully booked and the giant dining room was stark and impersonal. My aunt, who was more of a snob than my parents, therefore preferred to stay at the Marbella Club, which then was way out of town. In those days Marbella consisted of today’s old town and the coast westwards was only basically open fields. Nueva Andalucía did not exist, and San Pedro was just a little fishing harbour where nobody had ever heard about Fendi, Chanel or Versace.


Before its time


SKOL terrace 9. floor. Photo © Karethe Linaae


The apartment hotel was not only ground-breaking in its design but also when it came to hotel management. The iconic hotel complex was the first on the Costa del Sol to offer guests the possibility to invest in the hotel’s flats, a model which since has become common in the tourist industry. The thought behind this was that tourists come and go, but when they own their flat, they will become loyal clients. In 1991 SKOL ceased being an apartment hotel and was converted into privately owned flats.

Under the 60’s celebration in the autumn of 2023, SKOL was not only praised for its design but also as a business which was 40 years before its time with a modern type of hotel management – a concept which received international recognition.


Interior. SKOL. Photo © Karethe Linaae


SKOL was in many ways a Spanish pilot project. It was the first hotel in the country to offer guests a buffet and had an ice factory and a bakery where the locals came to buy cakes on Sundays. It was also the first hotel in the area that had a telephone switchboard. SKOL had a hair salon where the clients included the known entertainer Lola Flores and the Duchess of Alba. The building was also used as a film location for many Spanish 1960s features, but the significance of SKOL can perhaps best be seen by the guest list, which included celebrities such as Ava Gardner and Brigitte Bardot, the politician Ted Kennedy, the bullfighter Manuel Benítez Pérez (El Cordobés) and football players like George Best and David Beckham.


60 years of history


SKOL. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Several decades after my parents visited the place, my husband and I were invited to spend a couple of nights in SKOL by the descendants of some of the first owners.



SKOLs gate opens to Marbella’s Beach Promenade. Photo © Karethe Linaae


When one walks down towards the seafront on Avenida Arias Maldonado today, the building still gives an impressive silhouette against a clear blue sky. Even if the complex now lies in the centre of town, surrounded by buildings, it still has a unique retro feel. When one enters the gate from the beach promenade, one steps into the same tropical garden with palm trees, flowers, and pools. I admit, the guests may not be as celebrated as in the hotel’s glory days. Today, the sun loungers are filled with visitors from northern or eastern Europe who have booked their tourist flats online.


SKOL from above. Photo © Karethe Linaae


However, with a bit of exploration, I still detect echoes of the original bespoke style. The glass doors leading into the reception have custom-designed door handles shaped like enormous sunflowers. The lobby still has some cool hanging lamps that must be original, and the open interior staircases bring one’s mind back to 1960s functionalism. The exterior stairways are now closed off to the public, likely for safety reasons. Several decades by the sea have put their mark, but the honourable 60-year-old remains one of Marbella’s most iconic buildings from the middle of the 20. Century and up to today.


Detail, door handle SKOL. Photo © Karethe Linaae



Modernistic lamp SKOL. Photo © Karethe Linaae


When I stand on the terrace on the top floor and squint towards the horizon, I can almost imagine how it was here in 1963, when SKOL stood majestically and alone on Marbella’s nearly empty coastline.


Postcard SKOL towards Puerto Banús, ca 1963. Aase Linaae’s collection


(Sources: Skol Apartments Marbella, La Opinión de Málaga, Architectural Digest, Archdaily, Marbella Directo, Foro Ciudad, Diario SUR, and private conversations with residents and guests)



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