Old prison blocks "rehabilitated" to stunning effect
July 6, 2012
That EXIT Architects describes the redeveloped Palencia Civic Center as a rehabilitation rather than a refurbishment is apt considering the 19th century building was originally a prison. Somehow, refurbishment is too small a word for such a radical change of use, implying a mere lick of paint here and a scrubbed-down banister or two. No. EXIT quite literally tore the roof off the place.
The prison was built in the Neo-Mudéjar style that emerged in Spain at that time (the city of Palencia is in the north-west of the country). What does that mean? In a word: brick. In two: decorative brick. Like the Moor-influenced Mudéjar buildings built centuries before that the later movement sought to emulate, Neo-Mudéjar constructions are typified by brick walls and tile roofs, often arranged in elaborate patterns, and adorned with decorations of wood and metal. If you've been to Madrid this is a style you'll be familiar with.
But the Palencia Civic Center is Neo-Mudéjar no longer. The brick facades and structure remain, of course, but the building has sprouted metallic geometric forms that coldly stand out from the brick and give the building an entirely new shape. The zinc panels have been fitted with translucent "windows," so that once dingy interiors are now flooded with daylight. At night these panels appear glow from the lighting within. This won't do Palencia's light pollution efforts any favors, but the effect is striking: cyborg architecture; Post Neo-Mudéjar.
The process involved completely removing the old tile roof, which, due to its state of disrepair, would have required wholesale replacement anyway. No doubt there are traditionalists that would have preferred a like-for-like repair job. No dice.
The four wings and central hall of the old prison are connected by new pavilions of the same zinc and translucent construction. The reworked interior now contains auditoria, classrooms and activity rooms for large gatherings. The old prison cells have been converted into a library. This wing features an octagonal "lantern" in its roof, built atop the stunted tower there before.
Inside is clean, white and utilitarian. There's still a penal feel about the place, judging by the photography (which is first rate, incidentally) and that's perhaps a not entirely unwelcome connection with the past. It has been argued that plain (even drab) interiors can (if it's the right sort of plain) inspire creativity. That being the case, and though far from drab (the interiors, when photographed at least, were positively gleaming), the generally spartan vibe should be more than up to the task.
The redevelopment is completed by a new glazed perimeter which sits flush with the complex facades. EXIT describes it as a "filter" between the city and the civic center. It certainly contributes to the illusion that the facility is somehow the product of a geometry-burp in the spacetime continuum.