A documentary shows, step by step, the rehabilitation of La Casa de la Sirena and Casa Bajada a San Pablo, better known as the Hanging Houses of Cuenca, which, starting next week, will become a restaurant run by chef Jesús Segura from Cuenca, which has a Michelin Star and was awarded “after a demanding process”, as explained by the City Council.
The production company from Cuenca Other Lands has produced the documentary for the Consortium of the City of Cuenca and shows the rehabilitation work of the most emblematic building in the city for many months. He monitors the work from the beginning, hand in hand with workers, architects, engineers and Consortium staff.
It talks about the historical part, the previous state of the Hanging Houses and what their reform means. And to do so, the City Council explains that “the collaboration of the Juan March Foundation has been essential”, as well as the personal archives of the family of Julián García and the architects Pablo and Daniel León, who have donated some of the old images that can be seen. see in the documentary
600 years of history
Pedro Miguel Ibáñez, historian and researcher takes a tour of the building’s 600-year history during the documentary. Its origin dates back to the late Middle Ages. “In the fifteenth century there are already documents that offer a chronological reference.” The researcher highlights a “very important moment in its history”, back in 1481, when Canon Gonzalo González de Cañamares bought the houses.
“They were domestic architecture for private dwellings; popular architecture of Cuenca with its frameworks and cantilevers that became an urban icon at the end of the 19th century and surely had to do with the collapse of the San Pablo bridge, which was the icon of Cuenca until then”.
In 1926 they were acquired and demolished by the City Council. The architect Fernando Alcántara designed the project. “He was the author of the famous balconies that we can see today.”
Later, in the 1960s, the historian speaks of “a true blessing” when Fernando Zóbel arrives with his impressive collection of abstract art. That is when it was adapted as a museum and in 2016 it reopened after another process of expansion and renovation.
A building “degraded, with pathologies and almost abandoned”
Over time, the Hanging Houses suffered “pathologies, degradation and almost abandonment”, explains the architect Miguel Ángel Redondo. In 2016 they were cataloged as a Site of Cultural Interest (BIC). Many conditioning factors have weighed on its restoration due to the uniqueness of the space. “It was essential to be able to put a restaurant with the current regulations and in this building”.
The works began in December 2018 with an execution period of six months that could not be met. With a budget of one million euros, Juan Zamora, the person in charge of executing the rehabilitation work, explains that they found a “surprise” on the balconies of the Hanging Houses. In 2019, organic matter decomposed and rotten by humidity was found in the beams, although at first there was talk of woodworm. “It was not true”. The project had to be modified and cost an additional 100,000 euros. After the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the work. “In total the work has cost around 1.2 million euros. It has been quite an adventure for this building. He deserves it”.
Ricardo Alonso, technical architect of the City of Cuenca Consortium explains that “there is another part where the museum is but we work only in the restaurant part” and speaks of “the difficulty of not having appropriate access to carry out the work. There are three interventions in a single work”. “Very special” materials and professionals have been used.
Spaces for citizenship have been recovered. It will be possible to go out to the balconies and the building will have accessibility and air conditioning, elements that it lacked. In the Hanging Houses there was already an inn. And that is why now in the entrance hall you can see a photograph of the day of that inauguration. It is an image of the artists from the ‘El Paso’ Group who opted for the avant-garde during the Franco regime to renew a paralyzed artistic panorama: Rafael Canogar, Luís Feito, Juana Francés, Manuel Millares, Antonio Saura, Antonio Suárez, the sculptors Pablo Serrano and Martín Chirino and the critics Manuel Conde and José Ayllón, in addition to the later incorporation of the painters Manuel Rivera and Manuel Viola.
Where the bathrooms used to be, there is now a wine cellar. All the coffered ceilings have been restored and a black color predominates in the dining room which, according to the architect Javier Redondo, “allows the eyes of people when they arrive to go towards the landscape, the true protagonist”. The transformation is total and hides some surprises. Today the old Zóbel Museum has become the ‘clean room’. “You can put a modern element in a heritage building without distorting it. With a critical sense and excellence to make Cuenca a competitive city from which our children will not leave, ”says the architect Miguel Ángel Redondo.
The Hanging Houses “are an icon and not only for the city. I think we are known nationally and internationally for this building,” says the mayor, Darío Dolz, who recalls that they were works “that all of us from Cuenca asked for.” For Daniel León, manager of the Consortium, “it is a clear example of good work when all the administrations row in the same direction” and he describes the performance as “exemplary”.
“They are a triumph of Humanity. Where the Hanging Houses are now, the city walls used to be”, explains the archaeologist and historian of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, Miguel Ángel Valero, who is also a councilor for Culture, Historical Heritage and Tourism. “When these lands were pacified, the wall was removed and the architecture won space over the vertigo and the sky.”
The mayor believes that the rehabilitation will mark “a before and after. I hope that this space gives the city an important future projection together with the Spanish Museum of Abstract Art”.