When you hear about a rehabilitation project by EXIT Architects – Angel Sevillano and Jose M. Tabuyo in collaboration with Eduardo Delgado Orusco – in Palencia, Spain, with a floor area of 5,077sqm and a budget of 9,675,038 Euros, it certainly grabs your attention. Learning that this is the conversion of the Provincial Prison into a Cultural Civic Center definitely locks your attention down for sure. Refurbishing a building that has been designed in XIX intentionally to leave out all natural light & minimize open spaces within, into a center that promotes social and cultural activity is one of those great challenges.
This structure was mainly built with brick bearing walls following the ‘neomudejar’ style, composed of 4 two-storey wings with another consisting of one storey. This particular renovation is so much more then just architecture. It is the remake of a complete ideology; by breaking all inhibitions and introducing a new state of mind. Respecting the existing structure, Exit Architects refurbished the main two-storey wings by emptying their interior and placing a new independent structure to bear the new floors and roofs. Between these wings, new connecting pavilions have been introduced to break up the solitude of each wing and bring a sociable circulation throughout. The entire building is organized around a great hall that connects the 4 pavilions of the former prison. It is a diaphanous space based only on a few mild cylindrical courtyards of glass that act to illuminate and provide the structure’s backbone. Due to its central location, this space acts like the core of the surrounding circulation.
Of course the real beauty of construction lies within the structural changes which allow daylight to enter inside. For a start, the original battered tiled walls were demolished and replaced with zinc constructions. Then of course there is the implementation of large skylights were allowing for ample light into the open halls of the Center. This is a true symbolical feature as the only sense of freedom of light to enter from the higher grounds. Underneath these grounds, the spaces act as various music, multi-purpose and art classrooms. With the introduction of music vibrations bouncing across these walls, this building is certainly experiencing a rebirth into a life of culture.
In this conversion the true symbolism and rebirth lies within the prisoners’ cells. The walls that once captured hours and hours of solitude with nothing to do, except in some cases, read have been transformed to accommodate the library. Creating virtue and knowledge this is a true architectural rebirth. Another element which has paid tribute to this new life is the bright glazed perimeter pretending to be a filter between the city and the activity of the interior. Finally, this building has nothing to hide any more about what it is and what it stands for. Once a dark example of a community that many have not wanted to associate with, the building now hosts the community that everyone wants to get in to. Life certainly has a funny way...