RECORD. Restoring and rehabilitating the interiors of the Sant Leopold building

Any work to be carried out on a building which has been declared a world heritage site and the work of the modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner always entails a delicate compromise between the need to protect the values of the building and the requirements for using it, with this being closely linked to its own survival (use as a guarantee of preservation).

In the case that concerns us, the starting point is a building very much affected by the modifications introduced by its use as a hospital over the course of nearly a century, which has led to the disfigurement, and even the loss, of original items of a high value.

Once the building was released from its original use as a result of the move to the new hospital, the items added (mostly installations, compartments and intermediate lofts) were removed in previous phases and the restoration of the enclosing elements (roofs and facades but not carpentry) carried out. Thus the remaining work involved restoring the exterior woodwork and the interior elements, and adapting the building to the new uses.

The project involved a series of actions designed, on the one hand, to recover and restore as many of the original features as possible, especially the original spaces and structural and building systems, but also the most significant tile coverings (one of the elements most affected by the earlier work). On the other hand, the actions sought to adapt the building to new uses, compatible with this, despite having very different requirements to the hospital requirements of the early 20th century, both in terms of the typology of the new use (administrative), and the requirements of the 21st century (comfort, energy efficiency, regulations, etc.).

A basic requirement for the first goal was an exhaustive knowledge of the building, both of its original state and the history of its evolution (knowing what it was like), as well as its current state (what it is like and what is the matter with it). This knowledge would make it possible to make technical decisions that are most appropriate for the current requirements (what is being asked for). In order to adapt the building to its new uses it was essential not only to respond to the current demands of comfort and comply with regulations, but also to do so in a way that respected the building and its heritage values, and therefore the exhaustive knowledge mentioned above became absolutely essential.

Broadly speaking, the proposal was for the restoration of all the interior areas (recovery of the volume, the enclosing elements and original construction systems) and the restoration of the few finishing elements that are preserved, refurbishing them in the most important areas: the main lobby, the day room and the vaults of the two levels of the central nave. The proposal for implementing the new use is the dry-fitting of new enclosing elements, using materials such as wood, glass and steel, and shaping geometries that are tailored to the usage requirements while escaping the seriation and regularity of the original building while not masking it, allowing a vision which would make it possible to capture the surroundings built by Domènech i Montaner at all times.

As envisaged in the tender with the slogan 'Path', these new elements form sinuous figures, reminiscent of a path in the middle of a forest, with its diagonal visions and transparencies. The elements of wood, glass and steel are both enclosing elements, the structure of a loft and support for the new installations where use could not be made of the original steps envisaged by the modernist architect.

In the façade, given their great architectural value, the windows that could be recovered were refurbished, adding double glazing to provide a good thermal insulation in the façade. The windows that were damaged were replaced by new ones, following the original aesthetics but adding new internal rebates to fit two systems of rubbers, thereby insulating the new windows and achieving a high degree of thermal insulation. The windows were lacquered on the outside with the original colour, and the insides were left with translucent Lasur varnish to reveal the veins of the wood as it was in its origin form.

On the top floor the exterior slats on the southern facade were motorised to orientate them according to the position of the sun.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning the management process for the work which an intervention of this kind involved: with tight deadlines, with requirements to not diverge from the budgets, with the simultaneous concurrence of two construction companies for carrying out different parts of the project (installations and civil engineering), with new requirements demanded by the owners, and all this in a building with the level of protection expected of a world heritage site. Without the continuity of the multidisciplinary team which developed the project and monitored the work, without the complicity of developers and construction companies, and without the effort and professionalism of all the agents involved, it would not have been possible to carry out the project with the quality, thoroughness and authenticity that the building demanded.

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