Monday, August 8

Avant-garde architecture in Spain emptied to stop depopulation: Castromonte and its ‘multifunction’ pool

The Montes Torozos of Valladolid keep a curious ‘jewel’ of contemporary architecture. In the municipality of Castromonte they have a swimming pool, as in many others, but theirs is not just any. The residents also have an agora in this facility -a traditional town square-, because the truth is that, since its inauguration in 2021, it is not only used to take a refreshing swim in the dry heat of the plateau.

It is a project of the people for the people. That is to say, it has been built thanks to the remnants produced by the wind turbines installed in the municipality, with a project of 425,000 euros, which seeks to create a meeting point for the Castromontinos and, in addition, has used, in its vast majority, materials taken from the village itself. Everything that is an example of circular economy, although, as the architect of these unique pools, Óscar Miguel Ares, has indicated: “it is already something that people have been doing all their lives”.

Precisely, this aspect draws attention when passing through its walls; It feels like it’s been there for a long time. The stones are from the demolition of nearby walls and the only element that suggests that there is a trap is its unique cover.

This eclectic building combines the local type of construction with the most universal architectural principles. That is why it has earned him praise in important competitions such as the Ibero-American Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism, the international Architecture Masterpize 2021 award, in Los Angeles; or the first prize in the new construction category at this year’s Castilla y León Architecture Awards.

All these recognitions are thanks to the combination of evoking memories and feelings with avant-garde architecture in community pools in a town with just over 300 registered inhabitants, emphasizes the architect responsible for the project.

Why this type of works in the middle of rural Spain? Ares has an answer: “There comes a time when you have to think about the population that lives in these areas and only wants services. In this case it has been a swimming pool, but due to its conception it could have been called in multiple ways”.

The truth is that the work of Ares and his studio is planted mostly in that rural Spain, specifically in an environment of “about 44 kilometers” in the province of Valladolid, says the architect. This supposes for him, not only pride, but his hallmark and way of propping up Empty Spain -a term he prefers to Emptied, understanding that “it has always been like this-“. “We have become accustomed to thinking that the countryside is the backyard of the city, which seems to be what it is destined for. That we have to place wind turbines, no one protests. That we want to place photovoltaic panels, we place them where no one protests. Macro farms? Also Enough already! ”, He has claimed.

That is why, appealing to his professional colleagues, he has aimed to focus on these hidden places and their projects as a way of improving life in these regions. “In Spain, very good architecture is made, but we must turn our eyes to these less densely populated areas that allow another type of architecture to be possible. I only demand that a little more attention be paid to us.”

fight depopulation

This meeting center seeks to fight against depopulation and encourage locals, family members and foreigners to visit the Montes Torozos region. The work is just one more of those that have been carried out in Castromonte, since for more than a decade the arrival of the mills left money in the municipal coffers that has allowed investments to be made, with the swimming pools being the last facilities to open .

At the forefront of these projects to give the town a face lift is its mayor, Heliodoro de la Iglesia, who prefers to be considered a “manager” rather than an alderman, since he considers that in such a small municipality politics lose their meaning and seeks the best for its neighbors.

De la Iglesia comments that important things have been done with this money that the City Council treasury -which before his arrival years ago was at a “fixed rate” in a bank account-: get the traffic out of the town with a ring road, fix the church, create a center for the elderly with all kinds of services, swimming pools-social center and, under construction, a food house for those inhabitants who need, due to their situation, to have their food prepared. In other words, in Castromonte its neighbors are pampered with measures aimed at the well-being of its population.

And here comes the critical part of the mayor. Due to its ‘privileged’ situation, which allows the money from the wind turbines to be invested, in addition to knowing the current legislation of the rule of splendor by heart – which, as De la Iglesia has pointed out, since they are no longer so “limited” -, this type of investment can be allowed since they hardly have aid from other administrations.

But the lack of support is not only seen in terms of services or infrastructure, but also in cultural activities. According to the alderman, “beyond medieval markets, nativity scenes or Holy Week” it is difficult to get the involvement of other institutions. In the case of Castromonte, they have carried out the Lazos film festival, whose competitive section received 410 films, of which nine were selected, with the aim of vindicating culture from the so-called ‘Empty Spain’, which moves away from conventional circuits to bring creativity and art to small towns and rural areas. And how could it be otherwise, the pools became the great cinema of this sample.

Building process

The swimming pools in the towns are usually clearly identifiable but this is complicated in the first instance because it is not like other types of facilities. Its conception is what makes it so, since more than refreshing, “it is understood that it is a social meeting point so that it has more lives”, Ares clarified. In other words, as the mayor has assured, the idea is to be able to combine activities typical of the town, such as the film festival, large meals and allowing socialization. “The pools are not like others, when 8:00 p.m. arrives and you have to go home, here you can stay longer because there are activities.”

A project like this has placed Castromonte on the architecture map thanks to its concept: “The building has two constructive realities – the stone wall and the roof on the other hand – everything is made with local and nearby materials. It gives the feeling that it has been around for a lifetime”, explained its creator.

Nothing is further from reality, since on the site, before this construction, there was a stone enclosure which has been reused in the new building. And in case you need material, as Ares has related, “there was more about 200 meters from there at most.”

The formula of the Castromonte pools has also added the voice of experience since, in addition to demolition stone, traditional techniques have been applied and disused trades have been recovered thanks to the involvement of neighbors who have worked on the construction .

In this format, as Ares has commented, the most veterans have been listened to and “have allowed themselves to be guided” in matters as particular as the correct placement of the stones, as well as their selection and also the integration of other elements. , like the supports and beams, to end up “confusing the color” and evoke that feeling of old that the building itself gives.

Reuse has been the key, but it has also given the building an evocative character. The cover, the only manufacturing element brought from further afield – that is, from Aranda de Duero, some 135 kilometers away – is that other point to which the gaze is drawn. It is a ceiling but it is not evenly attached, letting in light and casting shadows. All this, in the words of the architect, to “create a game of shadows that allows us to return to the summers of childhood”.

The case of this pool -which “could have been called in any other way”, according to Ares-, has the acceptance of the entire town, as expressed by both the mayor and the creator of the facilities. As an anecdote that sums up this feeling, -and “for what you feel happy with the work”-, the architect has commented on the reaction of the neighbors in a Facebook group to the criticism of a user for “being a useless waste of money ”. They defended the building “all as one”. “This has meant life to us,” said one. “We have a place to meet,” added another. And perhaps the most important: “We have managed to get our grandchildren to come back and people are once again interested in Castromonte.”