An erstwhile prison and school, El Roser Social Centre in Reus bares latent edifices

Beatified as a transformation of a transformation, El Roser Social Centre by Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura revels in the revelation of its predecessor.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Aug 02, 2022

The adaptive reuse of heritage structures especially displays a fond propensity toward the realm of social architecture, with a number of these structures morphing into people-hubs irrespective of the role they held in their previous lives. Not only is it hearteningly reflective of a shift in our perspectives with regards to social, public, and communal space, it may also contribute to an increased "publification" of spaces, exposing potentially significant architecture to a greater audience, while at the same time involving a greater number of stakeholders in its social reclamation. The other important facet in the adaptive reuse of heritage is the degree to which the original structure is paid reverence. Restoring the building to as close to its original form as possible using modern tools may seem like the most obvious choice, but to enable a transformation of purpose as stated above, and not just motif and style, the structure needs to accommodate sensitive interventions that define and mould the new spatial sense, while still being highly respectful of the original structure. That is when truly new avenues for adaptive public reuse are discovered and brought into being. The El Roser Social Centre in Reus, Tarragona, strives for and thrives within that balance, revelling in bringing its verdant, rustic past to the fore, sensitively transforming the city’s old prison building with a definitive architectural character of its own.

The archway that earlier served as the entrance to the prison has been retained, along with a unihued linear steel colonnade in place of the prison wall |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
The archway that earlier served as the entrance to the prison has been retained, along with a unihued linear steel colonnade in place of the prison wall Image: Adrià Goula

Designed by Barcelona-based Josep Ferrando, in collaboration with Gallego Arquitectura, the social centre takes cues from both the original prison building, built in 1929, and the school building it was transformed into in 1979. The original structure, a congregation of linear volumes in brick and rubble, was additionally listed as a Cultural Asset of Local Interest and included in the Inventory of the Architectural Heritage of Catalonia. With the remarkably modernistic interventions, the old structural and spatial typologies collude to form a shelter for the homeless, a soup kitchen, and a community space, bringing together the social services of the city, making it the first comprehensive facility of its kind. The resultant narrative also alludes to the metaphor of correction in place of incarceration as a means of social rehabilitation, wherein a facility for holding people is transformed into first, a place for education and enlightenment, and then, a sociable space with an amenable spatial framework. What’s additionally interesting is that both of the former spaces, requiring a sense of confinement to work, now operate in expanses sans the rather rigid compartmentalisation that is characteristic of the two typologies.

  • The new design retains traces of the old, even accentuating them at places by means of minimalistic intervention |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    The new design retains traces of the old, even accentuating them at places by means of minimalistic intervention Image: Adrià Goula
  • Openings are stereotomically introduced into the rubble and brick mass of the existing structure to create visual and physical porosity |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    Openings are stereotomically introduced into the rubble and brick mass of the existing structure to create visual and physical porosity Image: Adrià Goula

The minimalistic yet impactful intervention by the architects is based on the idea of having the project's variable "strata of time" interact and dialogue with each other, with the concealed construction layers now revealed in the new design. A renewed sense of connection is forged with this estranged architecture, baring the transformation to its audience not as a finished product, but as a process in itself. The architecture of the social centre ascribes to completely respect the original construction, but the process by which it does so is a dichotomous victory. It proceeds in building, constructing in a way that reveals, highlights what came before it and the construction typology of the time - now an austere image. The building itself is its own museum.

  • Elements in steel, particularly the new windows, drive home the idea of a palimpsest |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    Elements in steel, particularly the new windows, drive home the idea of a palimpsest Image: Adrià Goula
  • A multiple pitched steel roof tops the existing brick enclosures to create community spaces, initiating a conversation and dialectic relationship between the old and the new |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    A multiple pitched steel roof tops the existing brick enclosures to create community spaces, initiating a conversation and dialectic relationship between the old and the new Image: Adrià Goula
  • The new additions in the adaptive reuse of the structure allow it to have an identity of its own while being respectful of the existing structure |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    The new additions in the adaptive reuse of the structure allow it to have an identity of its own while being respectful of the existing structure Image: Adrià Goula

The new elements in the composition are all lightweight, evoking a sense of ethereality, tectonically added to the canon brick and rubble structure. In contrast to this, a stereotomic approach is applied to the mass of the existing structure. The closed spaces in the H-shaped layout are permeated by opening the layout across the two courtyards in the middle of the linear arms of the assembly to create new lines of sight, reminiscent of Palladian open courts. "The interpretation, functioning and routes around the building's interior are reassessed, as they are at urban level, changing its relation with the immediate environs," states the design team at Josep Ferrando Architecture on the project's urban level reflections.

  • The steel structural members being installed on-site |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    The steel structural members being installed on-site Image: Adrià Goula
  • The sense of enclosure carried over from the erstwhile prison and school structures is skillfully dealt with to create spaces usable by the public |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    The sense of enclosure carried over from the erstwhile prison and school structures is skillfully dealt with to create spaces usable by the public Image: Adrià Goula
  • Corridor with holding cells in the process of being reformed |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    Corridor with holding cells in the process of being reformed Image: Adrià Goula

Part of the project's public-urban aspirations are materialised by eliminating the wall surrounding the prison yard, a most direct manifestation of the place now being open to public in a renewed manner. The monumental archway that earlier served as the entrance to the prison is retained in isolation, even with the wall propping it knocked down, as a distinct wayfinding marker bearing direct association with the remnants of the existing structure. A diagonally running slender steel structure recalls this fallen wall, while "threading" the three different historical periods, adding a dash of colour to the proceedings, and reinstating the porous alternation of its spaces. The idea of a palimpsest is driven home through the steel interventions especially, including the linear freestanding steel colonnade, windows, and a distinct pitched roof tying the brick and rubble assembly together. 

  • El Roser Social Centre: Site Plan |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    El Roser Social Centre: Site Plan Image: Courtesy of Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura
  • El Roser Social Centre: Floor Plan |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    El Roser Social Centre: Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura
  • El Roser Social Centre: Longitudinal Section |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    El Roser Social Centre: Longitudinal Section Image: Courtesy of Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura
  • El Roser Social Centre: Transversal Section |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    El Roser Social Centre: Transversal Section Image: Courtesy of Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura
  • Animation showing axonometric views of the existing compound and the new interventions |El Roser Social Centre | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    Animation showing axonometric views of the existing compound and the new interventions Image: Courtesy of Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura
  • Axonometric views of the centre’s interior spaces | Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura | STIRworld
    Axonometric views of the centre’s interior spaces Image: Courtesy of Josep Ferrando Architecture and Gallego Arquitectura

Project Details

Name: El Roser Social Centre
Location: Reus, Tarragona, Spain
Surface area: 1.323,15 m2 Client: Reus City Council
Designers: Josep Ferrando Architecture, Gallego Arquitectura
Team: Josep Ferrando, David Recio, Xavi Gallego (Principals); Alex Font, Arnau Sumalla, Ilaria Caprioli, Albert Chavarria, Adrià Maldonado, Maristella Pinheiro, Clara Ebert
Structural Consultants: Calmat
Envelope Consultants: XMADE
Energy Efficiency Consultants: Aiguasol
Quantity Surveyors: BIM Arq Eng + ASC-Arquitect
Contractor: Vesta

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