Architecture studio, Elii designs a loving new building for Save The Children in Madrid
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Architecture studio, Elii designs a loving new building for Save The Children in Madrid

Save The Children Foundation’s refurbished building in Madrid, by architecture firm elii, stimulates a relationship of affection towards the centre with its minimalist designs.

by Meghna Mehta Jul 23, 2019

The building for Save The Children Foundation is a strategic point in the San Diego neighbourhood for the social work that this NGO carries out in the Vallecas area of Madrid, Spain. The project - Save the Children Care Centre - was a competition that involved the refurbishment and extension of the current building so as to address the needs of a child care centre catering to different activities with families and kids. The main brief was to develop a strategy to refurbish and extend their ancient industrial building into a child care centre, within a limited budget.

The building is located in a pedestrian square, enabling the ground floor to generate different forms of relationships with it. It not only improves the lighting but also invites the neighbourhood into this space. The proposal to the architecture firm elii was based on adding a new body that is suspended over the existing structure. This extends the building and configures a new façade, as well as provides it a new communications and service core.

  • The new design for Save The Children Foundation| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    The new design for Save The Children Foundation Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Building as part of the square| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Building as part of the square Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Building as part of the square| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Building as part of the square Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • The new look of Save The Children building| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    The new look of Save The Children building Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)

Discussing the initial concepts and ideas, principal architects Uriel Fogué, Eva Gil, and Carlos Palacios of elli described the first steps, “We conducted some workshops with the kids and the workers of the centre. The study of some modern child care methodologies highlights the relevance of practices that encourage self-confidence, responsibility and affection for others, such as the care of pets or plants. Some of these approaches are transferred to the architectural support with a series of spatial, material, chromatic, furniture and design actuations.” This is clearly visible through the integration of mechanisms that favour a collaborative arrangement of spaces, including moving panels (in the classrooms) and portable furniture (the system of wheeled shelves in the library). These techniques structure the space in different ways and strengthen the bond between the users and the spaces.

On questioning the architects about what really makes the project stand out, they quickly responded, “We researched a lot in order to think of an ‘affection architecture', meaning understanding architecture as a space for care, so as to develop affection towards the setting. Caring for architecture as if it were a pet.” This has been accomplished through the incorporation of elements that encourage care, such as plants, and some ‘architectural pets’ (integrated within the various spaces) that will be cared for collectively.

  • Strategy diagram| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Strategy diagram Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Modulating spaces| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Modulating spaces Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Modulating spaces| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Modulating spaces Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Modulating spaces| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Modulating spaces Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)

During the process, many of the designs were discussed with the clients in order to achieve the best balance. For example, the original façade was maintained as it brought the surrounding environment and the urban fabric together, while a series of elements were integrated to design an identity for the headquarters as well as participate in the heat regulation of the building. The canopies form a display that reads S-A-V-E-T-H-E-C-H-I-L-D-R-E-N.

Stimulation of perception has been imbibed by the use of certain materials. For instance, some of the finishes of the waiting room reflect the outside, the paving of the square flows into the hall up to the waiting room and introduces it into the building and the enclosure connects directly with the game area, breaking the barrier between the inside and the outside. The ceramics (Cumella) used for the façade are as unique as the technique invented to support them in the planters. Some of the finishes attempt to stimulate a relationship of affection towards the centre.

  • The Program| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    The Program Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Changing façade| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Changing façade Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Changing façade| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Changing façade Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)

An emotional infusion through the architecture is an important element that can be clearly noticed in the design and adaptive re-use of the building. The architects explain, “It was important for us to incorporate the kids’ wishes. During the bidding process, children of different ages wrote a ‘wish list’ to show how they imagined the new space. Some of their requests, such as ‘installing a chocolate fountain on each floor’ were difficult to implement in the project. Others, however, such as ‘being able to see the stars from the rooms’ have been converted into different architectural elements, such as the skylight on the roof of the screening room. In short, this set of actuations is an attempt to turn the building into a ‘pet’, to make gaming easier and to stimulate a relationship of affection towards the centre.”

An aspect that was paid much attention to was the optimisation of the building in bioclimatic terms. Therefore, a series of basic active and passive methods were integrated towards bio-climate measures to improve the energy performance of the building.

  • The energy diagram| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    The energy diagram Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • External façade created using the original structure| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    External façade created using the original structure Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • The new interiors and exteriors for Save The Children Care Centre| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    The new interiors and exteriors for Save The Children Care Centre Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • The new look| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    The new lookImage Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Scale, proportions and colours used for sensitivity| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Scale, proportions and colours used for sensitivity Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Internal spaces with different materials used| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Internal spaces with different materials used Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • Each space with a unique quality| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    Each space with a unique quality Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)

The building has also been designed to evolve in the future while a number of building’s future requirements have been noted for them to be incorporated at a later date. In order to shorten the schedule and lower the required budget, the project has been presented as the essential refurbishment of a ‘basic’ hardware of the building, as the architects describe the ‘structure’ as allowing new elements to be incorporated to adjust the performance and update the main body over time, as if it were a personal computer.

On being asked whether they would have changed anything in the process of refurbishment of the building, the architects express the emotional investment they felt while being connected to the building and its users, the kids, “In the middle of the construction process, we had a meeting with the kids to explain the project. We decided to make a model, but a very special one. We prepared a cake-model. We explored together all the corners of the new building, checking how the wishes raised by the children during the contest had been adjusted to the new child care building. Then, together, we ate the building! If we could change one thing, we would have arranged for more cake… it got over too fast!”

  • The cake-model| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    The cake-model Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)
  • The cake-model| Save The Children Foundation| elii| STIR
    The cake-model Image Credit: ImagenSubliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero)

Project Details

Name of the project: Save the Children Care Centre
Location: Vallecas, Madrid
Developer: Save The Children Foundation
Year: 2016-2018
Area: 483,48 sqm
Architects: elii - Uriel Fogué, Eva Gil, Carlos Palacios
Team leader: elii - Ana López
Team for the competition: elii - Eduardo Castillo, María Rodríguez, Irene de Santos, Ana Castaño
Team for the execution of the project: Eduardo Castillo, María Rodríguez, Irene de Santos, Carlos Moles, Paula Rodríguez, Lucía Fernández
Models: Ana López, Lucía Fernández, Eduardo Castillo, Laura Barros, Telmo Sagartzazu
Surveyors: Dirtec - Javier González y Javier Mach
Structures: Mecanismo
Mechanics: Úrculo Ingenieros
Construction: Diadec
Project manager: Cushman & Wakefield - Iván Martín

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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