Scheda Progetto

Europan 12

Don Benito, Spagna

Purpose of the contest. Under the broad heading of The adaptable city, the 12th EUROPAN competition has invited submissions with ideas about the way time contributes to the creation of more adaptable cities, and seeks to explore the time‐space relationship in urban/architectural scale projects with a view to achieving an adaptable, changing city. The following concepts are defined as a starting point:

Adaptability, the quality of something that can be easily adapted to perform functions other than those for which it was designed.

Resilience, the ability of a flexible species, individual or system to cope with and overcome extreme situations, and recover a function or a development.


General contents. The project proposes a reinterpretation of the historical urban fabric. The block is redesigned following the generative rules of the historical tissues. In this way two systems are formed, a perimetral one, placed on the street and solid, and a central one, empty. This last one has a clear residual origin. However, the project could not admit the residual as the premise to create a newly born public space. The proposal suggests to overlap the two systems, building them on different levels. In this way the relations between them are enriched and both parts of the system keep their own independence. Thus, the empty space in the middle of the block becomes public, regenerating itself and conquering space for collectivity, without denaturing the fragile balances of the old town center. A character of resilience and a capacity to absorb transformations can be found in the regenerating operation, starting with the reinterpretation of the historical shapes, in order to respond to human needs in an essential and direct way durable over the time.

Green areas. The rebuilt tissue has a high porosity which guarantees an excellent adaptability to climate. The porosities also allow the greenery to colonize the spaces. The scheme for the green areas presented derives from the idea that they cannot be untied from the environment in which they are placed. We chose to use fruit trees. In this way the green areas are not just a decoration but they are also capable of creating a deeper and direct relationship with people that can feed themselves with the fruits. Therefore the porosity generates pertinent spaces in which greenery, also productive, will be taken care of by residents, increasing awareness and responsibility and so reinforcing relations with the context.

Time. The project works on the domestic appearance and on the reconstruction of a people-oriented place. This objective starts from the spatial conception, from the definition of materials and functions, in order to provoke a slowdown in the urban time. The rediscover of meeting, working and playing areas, capable of coexisting within neighborhood units of old town centers, these altogether represent the aim of the redefinition of the quality of public space.

Activities. The public space and the pertinent semi-public one are thought as collective spaces, owned by community. The new large square do not overlap itself with the other three existing squares, but it diversifies the possible activities that can be organised inside the four central squares system. We propose a more familiar and domestic space, suitable for play, work and free time, calibrating type of activities and dimensions in order to allow their coexistence in the same space and time. Even the semi-public have dilatations that allow collective activities, typical of neighborhoods, this way rediscovering a sense of cohabitation and responsibility towards common and shared spaces, that is to say the real urban regeneration catalyst.

Habitat. The residential tissue proposed is composed by the aggregation of unit types, which reinterpret the historical consolidated typologies. The settlement rules generate an alignment of residential unites alongside the roads, giving continuity to the consolidated matrix asset. The public space placed on the street is not distort by sudden openings. Among the discontinuity between the volumes are placed the entrances from the streets and from the public square. This interstitial spaces between volumes have a filter function, separating private and public area. They are clear pertinences of the houses but they also establish a more complex level of protection and revitalization of the project area. The “private house, semi-public space, public square” system provide a complex habitat, focused on the acknowledgement of the need of a slower and relaxed time during the urban experience. A time more suitable for relationships between people and for structuring a common identity.

Preexistences. The project seizes the interactions with the preexistence. It sutures the tissue of a key place for Don Benito, in the core of its old town center and next to the church. The aim is to normalize the relation between the urban tissue and the monument, avoiding the isolation of the preexistences. The church is a monument characterized by its majestic emergence from the urban fabric in which is placed. Its identity is the identity of the community that built it, and in which people recognize themselves. The singularity of the church loses strength and significance if it is no longer compared to the community system to which it belongs to. We decide to work on measured detachments, confronting directly contemporary architecture with the historical one. With deference and respect, never translating this space into representative empty spaces. Within the detachments, where the tension is higher, passages and connections are always obtained precisely in order to reinforce the relation and interdependence between the two parts. This is true both in relation to the church and to the Calle Consuelo Torres simple houses. An excessive detachment or the creation of a square, around the preexisting houses next to Casa de los Guillen, would have given to this part an inappropriate monumental value. The project provides calibrated detachments around the church for its monumental nature, integrating entrance passages to the new public space, avoiding the creation of squares or resting areas that would have led to a denatured relationship between the church and the public space. The church has its own development axis. It has a front and a back side; treating these two sides in the same way would have been incorrect, because the church needs its own monumental space on the front (the church yard), and not on its back. The new square preserves the introverted character typical of the empty internal spaces of the historical building blocks, researching a relation only with the volumes of the residences and of the church.


Intermediate spaces. The project structures space in three hierarchies, public space, private sector and an intermediate space between them. The project goes through the new tissue guaranteeing access to the inner houses and generating something more complex: a passageway from the street (or the square) to the house, a spatial filter both for location and purpose, a space to be shared by the community.The filter is accessible from the street, through tissue discontinuity. The space is compressed by the volumes in the tissue in a narrow vertical section: in this way the entry to a different system is marked on the road. This system is structured by two elements: the narrow paths and the wide, open paths. These narrow paths cross the entire block overlooking or descending to the public square. The wide paths create a perpendicular crossing. These sudden decompressions generate a spatial neighborhood in which two facing houses look onto. The dilated space generates an area for socializing and sharing which binds together all the houses in the block. The wide paths serve as a filter, protected and architecturally characterized through the use of household materials, such as wood for the flooring, white plaster for the walls and a filtered, soft light. In addition, the wide paths are provided with small seats shaded by fruit trees that create the backbone of small shared spaces, whose care will be entrusted to the residents. The places in between are designed and characterized in such a way not to compete with the public square.The houses have a complex relation with the filter system: there are the accesses, the views and the jali walls. Both the houses placed on the road and the ones internal to the system are accessed through and have a view on the common space. On the ground floor, entrances always lead to an enclosed space or to a patio, suitable for everyday activities and storage of objects related to the common areas (care of the greenery, simple craft activities etc). The views on the narrow paths are much more secluded, and they are screened by a holed wall, which allows the light and the sounds to filter into the houses patios. Hence, the residents have a chance not only to enjoy the common areas, but also to see them as their own, and to control them. The mutual relations described so far allow to characterize the identity of domestic spaces.


Houses. The project is concerned with repairing the building tissue, by interpreting it with a contemporary language. The system of patio houses arranged in rows appears as a habitat consisting in residential units. The units are organized in a typological scheme and the semi-public spaces serve as a sorting device organizing paths and inducing relations between residents.The house is designed inside an enclosed area, according to the patio house typology. It is introverted, but relates in diverse ways with public and semi-public spaces. The careful organization of these relations is important to ensure the respect of privacy, guaranteeing a high quality of life for residents. Meanwhile, this allows monitoring of the common areas and a view to the public street. The architectural elements for mediation are: solid wood main doors; glass entrances to the work spaces from the road; windows on the street, protected from the sun by a frame of COR-TEN steel; windows on the open spaces with a wider visual angle on the common spaces; jali walls that filter the side patios.Typically, the inter-axial distance between the bearing walls (or the jutting beams) is 7 meters and the depth of the house units is divided into three basic modules of 10, 12 and 15 meters. The median net area of the dwelling, not including the patios, is 100 square meters.The functional set-up provides a work /office or guest room space as well as bedrooms on the ground floor, with the living area and kitchen upstairs. In the typological variations presented in the scheme instances of office spaces on the upper floor are also given.The bedrooms open to a side patio, creating a semi-private outdoor pertinence. The patio provides ventilation and controlled light to the rooms, while mitigating the noise from the outside. The side patio is a buffer interposed between the most private areas of the house and the semi-public space. The patio filters light and sound coming from the semi-public paths through the holes in the perimeter walls that recall the screens typical of Islamic tradition, perfectly adapted to the climate of Extremadura, and still present in local buildings. In some instances, the patio allows access directly to the wide paths leading to the house.The living room and the kitchen are located on the upper floor. Living areas are characterized by a greater brightness coming directly from the patio which is a de facto room with no roof. The space on the upper floor is less fragmented allowing the gaze of the onlooker to reach the perimeter wall, creating a thin and smooth spatial atmosphere. The upper floor is also equipped with windows openings facing the road or the wide paths.The reinterpretation of the archetype established in the agricultural landscape of Extremadura includes the revival of the work unit located on the ground floor, as an element capable of fostering social cohesion and continuity in the identity of places and communities. An environment is envisaged having a direct relation with the external space, and it is equipped with its own independent access. This environment, sometimes fitted with a restroom is configured as a workspace. The place may be used as a small storage space, a place for craft activities, or to store tools for gardening and the care of common areas. This environment, in particular when it overlooks the wide paths, can be thought of as an indoor extension of the semi-public outdoor space that can accommodate meetings, social gatherings and shared work. When these spaces open directly onto the road they can evolve into real work units, they can have restrooms, as well as basement storage. The space is big enough for a small craft business, a retail store, an artistic or professional studio.


Car park / viability. The project provides for an automated car park to be constructed on Calle Consuelo Torres, in compliance with the regulations handed out by the Municipal Council. The project focuses on the quality and familiarity of space, thought as people-oriented instead of car-oriented spaces. The urban quality is perceived through an experience, a sequence of events. The typical free-access car-park is the first place where the public is received and the last being crossed by them. In this way large numbers of cars, while hidden from surface view, is always visible and quantifiable during use. This is not so in automated car-parks, where spaces for cars and people are parallel and not interlinked. The public is excluded from parking areas, the number of cars is hidden from view, users are spared complex parking maneuvers typical of classic parking lots. This increases quality of life for citizens (and tourists), who can forget about their car and access immediately the high quality, measured and familiar spaces.The choice of automated parking (302 parking spaces on 5 levels) is also part of the sustainability of the project in its broadest sense, from the construction and management processes to the more general quality of urban experience. Indeed, the automated car park compared to a traditional multistoreys car park needs less space for the same number of cars: in the same amount of space an automated car park can hold up to 40% more vehicles because of the reduced interfloor distance, the smaller size of parking spaces, the absence of maneuver spaces, ramps, stairs and elevators. Moreover, the lack of traffic within the building reduces the noise and air pollution, minimizes the possibility of accidents and injuries, avoids the cost of safety devices provided in traditional car parks, including the cost for insurance.The car access scheme provided considers the entry of residents through the main streets of the city center, while for those coming from the outside it suggests only the Calle Villanueva, as the most direct and quickest access route, easily reachable from all over the beltway. This option has been considered in order to avoid traffic congestion in the city center that results from uncontrolled flows.


Interference / relation with the preexistence. The project is structured around the relationship between two independent levels. Small interferences, disturbances, variations. The two systems, the public, empty space and the private, filled space, have their own architectural individuality, they are thought of as independent. This means that relations between spaces become very important. The overlapping of the two systems at different heights creates, at square level, a spatial interference. The square homogenous space is finite and protected: a great hole dug in the ground. The space is delimited on three side by solid reinforced concrete walls , with a smooth finish and colored in warm tones. Just on top of these wall, the white plastered volumes of the residences appear completely solid. The two systems confront each other without touching, and they are kept separated by a narrow fold. The relationship becomes visually apparent when the volumes carve out and define the skyline on top of the square. In this way the square appears to have two shapes, the lower is wide and regular, the upper is marked by the rhythm of the volumes. The volumes jutting out on top of the square redefine the lower space without finishing it. The characterization is as light as a footprint or a projection. The white volumes jut out, eventually lowering themselves to compress the underlying space. They project shades on the ground, reverberate and diffuse the sunlit that light up their large blind screen. The same protrusions protect from rain and circumscribe spaces for crossing and resting. In this more protected areas it is possible to set up exhibitions or organize recreational activities such as an open library or a weekly market.The large solid masses, very bright under the sunlight, are in contrast to the strong masses of the Santiago Apostol Church. The partial vision of the church, from a lower level, underline the church's role as a unique object inside the urban tissue, of which it is a monumental expression. This confrontation, from the distance, introduces another level relationship: a stronger one in this case, a sort of tension.The new residential tissue gets close to the church without reaching it. The separation is balanced, and it is needed as a sign of respect for the pre-existing structure.This deference does not create forbidden areas, nor does it generate squares: instead, it configures spaces narrow enough to be blatantly characterized as crossings . It is in this area, where the tension reaches its peak, two of the four entrances to the system are located.The monumental pre-existence, closely woven to the landscape and to the community who lives it, fully engages the contrast of shapes with the contemporary project, resulting in an increased awareness of both of them. Discontinuity and separation are also the outcome of the remaining residential fabric situated on Calle Consuelo Torres, in a way less emphatic, more balanced and adjusted according to a lower hierarchical role (access to a semi-public area). Interferences and restrained urban tensions enrich the environment. 


Square / public space. The square level is lower than the street one (four meters under Calle Cecilio Gallego and one meter under Plaza de Espana). The square can be reached via stairs or ramps. The points of discontinuity within the residential tissue, at the street level, represent the entrances to the underlying system. In this way we wanted to generate a defined, protected and familiar public space, without blocking it. Therefore we intended to reinterpret the chances offered by the empty and isolated spaces inside the rural urban agglomerates. This purpose has been achieved without inserting a false residual space inside the new tissue, but working on the reciprocal spatial independence of the two systems, as it is shown in the concept section. The square is conceived as an open, continuous space enclosed by an eye level perimeter of concrete walls. It is designed to accommodate a plurality of people, a community. At the same time we avoided blocking the shape in a rigid geometry in order to characterize the place as a familiar neighborhood and prevent any attempt to institutionalize the space. The contrast with the fragmented shape of the houses volumes, expression of individual space, appears clear.These interferences enrich the spatial quality with shades, weather protected areas, slices of sky and views of the impressive church walls continuously changing. In barycenter of the public system, there is a small compound of two buildings. It accommodates places for arts and crafts laboratories. The complex is made of two buildings, one of them with two-floor and the other with a single-floor. The functional plan places eleven units of different dimensions on the two floors, each one equipped with a restroom. Furthermore, there is a small meeting room for promotional or cultural activities, directly linked to Casa de los Guillen through a pedestrian path. The two buildings work as junction, as they perform a linkage between the two passages coming from Plaza de Espana and Calle (DEL MERCATO). Because of their particular role, the project suggests that this compound would be partially visible both from Plaza de Espana and Calle Villanueva.We propose to dedicate these places to arts and crafts activities because we believe them to be valuable occupations for communities, capable of keeping alive, increasing and renewing a shared identity. Therefore, these activities are compatible with the suggested public spaces and with the basic idea of domestic and familiar urban spaces. The compound is directly connected to the square. The connection is visual, since it limits the square on the west side; it is functional, as the square can accommodate fairs and promotional expositions, using the services/arrangements provided along the concrete walls on the ground, such as the recesses, water and electricity.With a view to an adaptable use of the public square, furniture is removable and it could be set out according to everyday needs. There are two wide storage spaces for different materials, such as extra seats or barriers, in order to sustain the set up of different activities. The entrances are located within the discontinuity points of the residential fabric. Two of them are emphasized by the tension arising from their encounter with the church. In particular, the entrance on Calle Villanueva gives continuity to the Market street becoming its extension, and generating a brand-new distinct system between the old building and the new crafts compound. The access from Calle Gallego is obtained within the gap between two house blocks which are oriented differently. This gap is optimal to underline the presence of the car-park and it represents the easy recognizable gateway to the square for people arriving by car. The lowered position of the square, the discontinuous fabric and the complex arts and crafts compound, assure that only a small portion of the square would be perceptible from the outside, but for its brightness and sound during nighttime. The basic idea for this access system is to create a path to discover the public space, in which the variation of light, and the impossibility to directly reach ones destination, make its exploration interesting and intriguing.The basic idea lying underneath the choice of the construction materials was to give the space a domestic connotation. The square is characterized by two main materials: the smooth warm colored concrete and the red soil. The floors and the perimetral walls are made of smooth concrete which gives the appearance of a domestic and well-refined space. The recesses inside the walls originate support bases for exposition or extra seats. These shelves are designed to set up a shared library in which citizens can share their own books with each other and with tourists. These shelves can also support commercial activities during outdoor markets, since they can expose products as they are connected to the city power and water line. The other dominant material is the red sand which creates the new square parterre . The sand is the material that better qualifies the space as domestic, a space anybody can relate to, without any institutional value. This square is a meeting and sharing place, a place to play, a place of full freedom. The need of familiarity lead to choose lemon trees for the green areas located in the square. This fruit tree is typically Mediterranean, therefore truly appropriate for this climate. It also enriches the space because it is not only a decoration but it represents an important food source. Among citrus trees, this choice is not random since lemons are frequently used in preparation of dishes and, for this reason, it is often present in Mediterranean houses courtyards. All these “materials” are added and confronted to the ones that define the upper perimeter of the square: the white plaster of the houses and the expanded COR-TEN steel sheets of the public buildings. The white plaster is used in the semi-public and private spaces because of its strong relation with Mediterranean culture. The white plaster has therefore the ability to diffuse light and make a place look smooth and nice, familiar and comfortable. In addition to this, constructively and technologically speaking, the white plaster is the most traditional surface finish for buildings.The expanded COR_TEN steel sheets underline the role of daily work, making it visible also in the nighttime from the new square and Plaza de Espana. The sheets let the light to seep, showing the shadows of the people occupied in their activities. In this way the relation with the open space is very strong, more than only functional, it is imbued of meaning and identity.