A power station transformed into a culture centre, a palace that becomes a museum or military barracks turned into a university campus. These are some of the projects in which Ferrovial Agroman has given new life to buildings and spaces, combining respect for artistic value with concepts such as efficiency or mobility.
Gregorio wakes up at six in the morning to the peal of bells from the church of San Cayetano. Groping around in the dark, he picks up a box of matches from the bedside table and lights the gas lamp. He leaves his cot and drags his feet to the only table in the garret. He washes in the murky water still contained in a washbasin from the night before. He puts on his trousers, socks, shoes, shirt, a patched-up sweater and his jacket. He puts the key in his right-hand pocket and in the left his lunch, two slices of bread and cheese. He leave his home and reaches his workplace in just under twenty minutes. Gregorio is a coalman at the Mediodía Power Station.
If Gregorio could travel a hundred years into the future and re-enter the station he would be speechless. He would no longer see coal bunkers, or generators, or turbines. He would be looking at the photographs, the paintings and sculptures of the exhibitions that CaixaForum Madrid would be hosting at that time. Because the facility which generated the electricity to light up the centre of Spain’s capital in the early 20th century is now one of the city’s principal culture centres.
CaixaForum Madrid perhaps constitutes the most representative example of the restoration and remodelling works on emblematic buildings that Ferrovial Agroman has undertaken in recent years. But it is not the only one. Projects such as the Málaga Picasso Museum, the Platea leisure centre in Madrid or the seat of the University of the Balearic Islands in Ibiza bear witness to the company’s capabilities in executing works that give a new use, on occasion radically different to the original one, to spaces of varying kinds. Others, such as the restoration of the Casa de la Panadería in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor or the remodelling of the Palace of San Telmo are good examples of how Ferrovial Agroman is capable of enhancing historic buildings, combining respect for artistic value with modern concepts such as efficiency or mobility.
Lighting up Madrid
Built in 1899, the Mediodía Power Station is one of the few examples of industrial architecture to have survived in Madrid’s historic centre. Today, transformed into the CaixaForum in Spain’s capital city, we can say, in a metaphorical sense, that it continues to light up the city through exhibitions, conferences, concerts and workshops.
The key objective in the transformation project for this space, designed by the architects Herzog & de Meuron, was to connect it directly to Paseo del Prado, one of the world’s most important culture hubs, and to configure a great plaza in a part of the city that is especially congested.
The connection with Paseo del Prado was achieved when an adjacent plot formerly occupied by a service station became available. The plaza was generated by removing the stone plinth holding up the perimeter wall of the power station which, after this operation, was left hanging in the air. Magic? No, engineering. In truth, the building’s historic façade today fulfils the function of cladding a new-build body made from concrete.
CaixaForum covers a surface of 10,000 square metres. The power station occupied 2,000. There was no trick here either: a new space was created by adding two levels below ground and incorporating an upper volume clad in sheet metal. The building’s unique look was rounded off with the creation of a vertical garden in one of the laterals of the plaza.
A house for a favourite son
While the Mediodía Power Station represented the industrial architecture of the late 19th century in Madrid, the Palace of the Counts of Buena Vista constitutes the best example of 16th-century civil architecture in Málaga. This renaissance-style building with its Plateresque façade and Mudéjar elements currently houses the Picasso Museum of Málaga.
To accommodate the works of one of the city’s favourite sons, the complex was painstakingly refurbished. Several adjacent buildings were also restored and modified and currently form part of the museum.
In the palace, the most prominent action was the underpinning of the walls with the purpose of strengthening their structure. This operation used a micropile system, a solution consisting of making perforations of around thirty centimetres in diameter and inserting a metallic reinforcement in each one of them, followed by filling them up with mortar. The micropiles are joined to a beam, called a tie beam, which is attached to the wall. In this way the load borne by the walls is transmitted to the beams, from these to the micropiles and from them to the ground.
Inside the building, the greatest challenge was to fit out the rooms to give them the ideal conditions of temperature and humidity to house the collections. Furthermore, this goal had to be attained without affecting the wooden coffered ceilings. The windows were treated to prevent the entry of heat and daylight and, in the ceilings, the air supply system was integrated into the wooden modules of the coffers.
In the adjacent buildings incorporated into the museum, which date from different eras, the façade elements were respected. Two new-builds were also erected to house the temporary collections, plus an underground room to display the Phoenician and Roman archaeological remains found during the building works.
Barracks transformed into a university
That a palace should be transformed into a museum is not a cause for great surprise. But that a military building should become a university can be a little more striking.
In 1944 Luis Zaforteza, a colonel in the Corps of Engineers, designed a residence “for unmarried officers and non-commissioned officers of infantry regiment no. 48 of Teruel and artillery regiment no. 23 of Ibiza”. After several military uses, it was abandoned in the year 2000.
A decade later, in 2010, the works began to convert the building into the Ibiza campus of the University of the Balearic Islands. The project respected the configuration of the façades and roofs, which were comprehensively rehabilitated. The interior was freed up to improve natural lighting and establish the spaces to be occupied by the classrooms. A further two storeys were also built on the front esplanade, below the level of the building, which were connected to it via a basement. In 2012 the complex welcomed its first students.
1946 saw the completion of the Carlos III complex situated at the start of Madrid’s Calle Goya. The project combines homes, a retail mall, a cinema and a party venue. The cinema, in contrast to other major film houses, lacked a façade giving on to the street: it was accessed via the shopping centre.
This is why, in 2013, the passers-by crossing this part of Madrid could barely perceive the transformation the venue was undergoing. The Carlos III cinema became Platea, a space covering 5,800 square metres that constitutes the largest gastronomic leisure centre in Europe.
The project included a partial restructuring, fitting out and restoring the space, respecting its original shape and the protected elements. A cladding in light-coloured wood upgraded the area previously occupied by the screen, which is now a stage around which the rest of the spaces have been organised. The dining venues are distributed around the old stage boxes, the proscenium and the pit.
Palace of San Telmo
Another of the palaces which Ferrovial Agroman has refurbished to give it a new use is the Palace of San Telmo. In 1989 the Archbishopric of Seville transferred it to the Junta de Andalucía to become the headquarters of the Andalusian regional government. In 1991 an initial restoration was undertaken and in the year 2000 the second phase of the project was launched, headed by Ferrovial Agroman.
The history of the Palace of San Telmo, one of the best examples of Seville’s civil baroque, goes back more than three centuries. Construction started in 1682 as a College of Seville’s Universidad de Mareantes (Seafarers’ University). In the mid-19th century it was transformed into the residence of the Dukes of Montpensier and was later fitted out as the Metropolitan Seminary of Seville. This last use seriously affected the configuration of its shape and typology.
The aim of the renovation project executed by Ferrovial Agroman was to recover the palace’s original structure. The building interior had to be demolished, with the exception of the principal centreline, the central courtyard and the chapel. The perimeter walls were retained.
The most significant action was undertaken on the south sector, where the non-symmetrical courtyard layout of the original outline was recovered. One of the courtyards had disappeared and had to be rebuilt from the existing remains. Another mutilated one recovered its original dimensions. A further two new ones were built. Also transformed were rooms with substantial architectural quality, such as the chapel, the vestry, the infirmary or the vaulted crypt, in order to give them public uses such as assembly and exhibition halls.
The gardens also underwent intense reform works. The ensemble was conceived as a garden of gardens, creating different spaces. The physical enclosure was covered in vegetation and a very large pergola was built as a new entrance to the palace from the gardens.
The heart of the Plaza Mayor
The Plaza Mayor is one of Madrid’s most recognisable spaces. It is a required stopping point for any visitor to Spain’s capital city. The current configuration of the square dates back to the 16th century, when Felipe II commissioned the remodelling of the then Plaza del Arrabal. The project began with the construction of the Casa de la Panadería, whose façade frescoes set it apart from the rest of the buildings.
In 2015, Ferrovial Agroman embarked on its restoration: the roofs were repaired, with all the slate being replaced, and the central crown was recovered in both spires, whose wooden lead-lined structure was in an advanced state of disrepair. Work was also undertaken in the room of vaults to remove cracks and damp and to prevent the loss of colour and ceramic material.
Thanks to this intervention, the most emblematic building on Plaza Mayor will retain its splendour for many years to come, as will the other spaces we reviewed in this article.