Josep Ferrando Architecture transforms prison into homeless shelter


Barcelona-based architecture studio Josep Ferrando Architecture has transformed a former prison in Tarragona, Spain, into the El Roser social center.

The center now serves as a homeless shelter, soup kitchen and community space, and according to the studio, it is the first of its kind in Spain to combine these social services in one space.

The building serves as a homeless shelter, soup kitchen and community space

Called El Roser Social Center, the building in Tarragona, Catalonia, previously served as a prison in Reus, then as a school.

Josep Ferrando Architecture has collaborated with Reus architecture firm Gallego Arquitectura to sensitively renovate the 1920s building, as it is listed as Cultural Asset of Local Interest and included in the Inventory of Architectural Heritage of Catalonia.

Photo of brick, concrete and glass walls
Josep Ferrando Architecture added modern elements to the original structure

The architecture workshop has reused a large part of the original structure, built in 1929 before being transformed into a school in the 1970s, “to find its constructive essence and discover the memory of the place”.

“Palimpsest dialogue is a challenge in the rehabilitation of a listed building,” Josep Ferrando Architecture told Dezeen. “We recovered the material and wall character and organized the plan to accentuate the tectonic lightness of the roofs.

Josep Ferrando Architecture removed the wall surrounding the prison courtyard, replacing it with a steel frame that mimics the previous form to create a public space open to the city.

The center’s soup kitchen is located in a steel and glass addition to the building, while shelters and more private community spaces have been placed in the original structure.

Photo of a counter under a glass ceiling
The soup kitchen is located in the steel and glass structure

The studio retained the original prison gate and introduced new windows and wet areas reminiscent of the originals, so the center is still reminiscent of a prison.

Although the space remains austere, furniture has been added to create a warm feeling for the guests residing there.

Pictures of a prison hallway
The building was selected for urban renewal and carbon efficiency

The site has been redeveloped for Reus Town Hall, with the building retained as part of neighborhood renewal and carbon efficiency.

“The argument for not demolishing a building was first and foremost a matter of heritage conservation,” said Josep Ferrando Architecture.

“The inestimable loss of heritage and memory is associated with the equally great loss of embodied energy that a new building replacing the existing one cannot compensate for.”

Other prison conversion articles on Dezeen include Berlin Prison Conversion to Hotel, EPR Architects Prison Transformation and Bodmin Prison Renovation.

The photography is by Adrià Goula.

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