Here’s an excellent renovation of a 19th-century brick building in the small Spanish city of Palencia. Madrid-based Exit Architects inserted glass-enclosed courtyards, translucent walls, and skylights galore to create a civic center that rivals the airy freshness of any brand-new construction. Glancing over the photographs, you’d never guess what the place was originally designed to do: lock up criminals.
“The former Palencia Provincial Prison complex was created at the end of the XIX century, built with brick bearing walls following the ‘neomudéjar style’ [an architectural movement characterized by ornate, Moorish design],” the architects say. Composed primarily of four two-story wings, it had good bones, and even some nice facade details, but, as you might expect, not the world’s most welcoming interior design.
To convert it into a 54,000-square-foot meeting hall–complete with auditoriums, classrooms, a library, and multipurpose spaces–the architects gutted the existing wings, then built a set of connecting pavilions to unite the complex under one roof. The beautiful brick edifice remains. The jail cells do not; they’ve been torn out and replaced by a modern library. There’s sweet irony in that–dark confinement reborn as a locus of intellectual enlightenment.
It’s a remarkable transformation. And it’s got us thinking about all the old prisons and insane asylums here in the states that could be used for something other than gloomy tourism and abandoned-building porn. We’d love to see what these guys could do with Alcatraz.