Inputs on the Way to Architecture School
I grew up surrounded by shipyards and the remains of steelworks in a working-class quarter of Gijon. The city at that time was distinctly “Piranesian”, more refined than it is now, and characterised by the complexity and allure of an industrial past that was even then in the process of becoming just a memory, a legacy long disappeared or transformed into a design narrative. It was an environment that intrigued me, but that I was unable to decipher from my own personal perspective until I started studying architecture, which was when I began to interpret the landscapes of my childhood and their different elements using the tools provided by the discipline I felt called to embrace.
The stimulating sights I saw through the windows of the bus on the way to the Zapateira campus each day—the Mercedes building with its famous Mercedes sitting high above Alfonso Molina, the interesting SEAT dealership a little further on, the Coca Cola factory on the outskirts of the city— accompanied me throughout my time at university and nurtured within me an interest in industrial architecture. I soon discovered that the last two buildings mentioned above had been designed by Andrés Fernández Albalat-Lois, the same architect whose brilliant lecture kicked off my first year of study . Some time later, Juan Domingo Santos was explaining to us how the sugar refinery that had caught his eye from the train taking him to the faculty ended up being the site that would house his architecture studio1, and that same mixture of excitement and intrigue that I used to experience when my bus drove past those fine examples of industrial architecture again welled up inside me.
Fernández-Albalat, who we still sadly miss, not only bequeathed his students some masterful lectures: he also produced a fascinating legacy of industrial architecture worthy of inclusion in the DOCOMOMO Ibérico database2— a collection of designs which, thanks to their chronological proximity and continuing usage, can be considered priceless examples of a living heritage.
One of them is the Sargadelos ceramics factory in Cevo, Lugo, which was designed by Fernández-Albalat in collaboration with Isaac Díaz Pardo and Luis Seoane and which was visited almost a year ago (in a time of not-so-new, and even less distant, “normal”) as part of the latest International Conference on Industrial Heritage (INCUNA). In this masterpiece of contemporary industrial architecture, located in an almost magical setting surrounded by leafy Galician woodland, work space, manufacturing process and artistic concept all combine to create one of the most remarkable examples of an industrial complex to be seen in the recent history of Spanish architecture: a factory that never changes and yet always seems different each time it is visited.
These are places that we enjoy again and again, spaces that we revisit in our memory, our own personal perceptions building up layer upon layer of suggestive nuances. And they constitute little student obsessions that later, in professional life, become passions; a journey to university that, in my case, reinforced my interest in industrial architecture and heritage; little stories which may contain the answer to the enigma of why certain references inspire the creative process in lovers of architecture.