A New Look at Architecture: The Re-use of Abandonned Spaces

The call for ideas "Architecture and Schools" aimed at teenagers for the re-use of disused spaces in Asturian mining areas emerges from the project "Learning from the Cuencas".

Published: Nov 11, 2013
A New Look at Architecture: The Re-use of Abandonned Spaces

Coal-washing plant, Figaredo. Archivo Histórico Asturiana de Zinc S.A., Castrillón

By Marta Lorenzo, My Art Diary @MartaLorenzoJ

Who hasn´t walked around their city and looked with nostalgia at certain buildings that in the past played a major role but have now become vacant structures, exemplifying a glorious past and a future of being relocated in areas far from the historical centre. It was only until quite recently that urban planning became aware of their historic value and, consequently, their reinsertion in the contemporary flow. These buildings, therefore, while still maintaining their structure and original façade, have “mutated” and been adapted to avoid falling into obsolescence and to bring about a new functionality that returns to them their former usefulness and as such their meaning.

The Principality of Asturias is another example of this new urban tendency or heritage awareness, carried out, in this case, by LABoral, Zon-e Arquitectos and the Sabadell Bank Foundation,and is related to the physiognomy formed by the Asturian mining areas. As an additional feature, we find that these areas are a significant example because of the landscape’s complicated orography and the confluence in its environment of a rapid industrialisation devoid of any criteria, where the natural, rural, industrial and residential areas are intertwined, forming a hybrid background with a violent shock of characters. Within a few decades these areas went from being a natural environment per se to centres of big urban agglomerations whose growth, due to the whims of the economy and capital, materialized in spontaneous constructions that were outside conventional architectural discourse.

Juan Carlos Beiro Sports & Leisure Centre La Felguera, Langreo ACXT / Javier Pérez Uribarri / Image: Kike LLamas

In order to study this, the exhibition Learning from the Cuencas was created, currently on show in the SabadellHerrero Exhibition Hall (Oviedo) and at LABoral. In the words of Benjamin Weill, the exhibition “appears as a hybrid between a traditional exhibition and a three dimensional documentary. The projects and objects they present in the exhibition space result from thorough research that establishes a very dense topography of this unique environment”. In this way, it is a project of selecting and cataloguing those examples of architecture, constructions and urban elements which are representative of this singular environment. In this link you can see a video presenting the project.

As part of the activities in this exhibition, the competition entitled Architecture and Schools was launched to analyse the architectural landscape of these Asturian mining valleys.  This call for projects aimed at secondary school students consists of brainstorming to generate ideas for the recovery of the currently abandoned architectural spaces in this habitat and, as an outcome, produce possible designs for their re-meaning. Yet the resulting designs are not only the aim, but also the means to help young people understand the role of architecture as a symbol of the evolution of human beings in a historically variable social environment.  For them and even for us, the Asturian mining areas are like a contemporary architectural site.

The role of education is a key element in approaching contemporary culture and, above all, encouraging young people to understand, enjoy and value architectural heritage, by helping to promote awareness of its conservation and to reject future behavior which could damage it or simply undermine its meaning.

Models zon-e + Cómo crear historias; Axonometric: Cómo crear historias


As Lucía Arias, Head of the Education Department at LABoral, said in an interview with Jose Luis Calderón on LABlog. “In the first place, it is aimed at a less formalistic or conventional approach to architecture (in the traditional “History of Architecture” way), and focuses more at the uses and utility of buildings nearby or related to the environment of teenagers.  Additionally, we consider that this approach could also be useful for teachers and students in other subjects in the school. With respect to your comment on “continuity”, this line of research taking architecture as the subject matter certainly does interest us because of the good relations between LABoral and the community and the College of Architects and because LABoral is a centre for art and also for industrial creation, and in this context architecture is essential”.

The first session with secondary school teachers from the mining valleys, Rogelio Ruiz, Doctor of Architecture, Jose Ramón Fernández Vázquez de Prada, Cultural Board Member of the Colegio de Arquitectos de Asturias (Official College of Architects in Asturias) and Nacho Ruiz Allén (Co-curator of the exhibition Learning from the Cuencas and Sara López Arraiza from Zon-e Arquitectos) has already taken place. Between the three, they have covered general visions of architectural practice, the aspects that come into play when considering a building as a heritage asset, and their vision of the cultural landscape of the Cuencas (the Asturian coalfields) and its architectural artifacts.

Following the development of the proposals by the schools at the beginning of January, the competition winners will be selected at the end of February 2014, who will go on to present their projects at LABoral. In addition to this, all the proposals will be published on the centre’s website. Undoubtedly, this “experience” could become a very successful, regular event between LABoral and the education community. Joining education and architecture and raising awareness is an investment in the future in order to gain an understanding of the evolution of our society.

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