Official Association of Architects of Asturias: Modern flexibility in historic surroundings

Like a lighthouse in the night or like a magic lantern, a new light wooden tower rises over and sheds light on the surrounding historic buildings in the old city centre of Gijón in northern Spain. A flexible and functional distribution was achieved with steel and glass fittings in its interiors.

Detailed information


The first section was kept for its architectural and urban values and the decoration it contributes to the interior of the building, as well as for its suitability for any new distribution. The thick walls around the perimeter of the ground floor solve the topographical differences of the site with outstanding precision and success. They form the foundations on which the building is based and establish its position in time, in conceptual space and type of construction.

The rest was an unfortunate superposition of additions that could not respond to the needs for functional and flexible offices whose use will certainly vary over time as it is an institutional building - the headquarters of an association.

The architects chose a forward-looking mechanism. They proposed a technical solution as the only one capable of responding to new programmes. As a tool to make maximum use of the available space, to make it more flexible and optimised, they clearly grouped communications in a central core - a free floor space that can be adapted to any internal organisation required. In the same way, the technological solution chosen allows the incorporation of new technologies: a thin but technologically advanced envelope. It would not be reasonable to reform the interior and leave a useless, obsolete skin.

Architecture, like a city, is a living entity in which the creative project of mankind is built up in successive layers. Each work is a testiment to the cultural moment that inspired it. As in so many cases in history, architectures overlay each other, driven by new social requirements.

The house has been used as architectural material. Its transformation involved adding, ordering, and replacing the problems of unsolved cornices, the different height relationships with the adjacent buildings; thus, enhancing the square next to the building, landmarks, urban changes, etc.

The result is a building with serene and transparent facades constructed of materials linked to the architecture of the place and chosen as the result of the analysis of the immediate historical area, which is surrounded by balconies, additions, and cantilevered elements made of wood and glass. The resulting proposal is, in the architects´ definition, a semi-hidden multi-purpose area, where the light and space of the interior constitute unquestionable evidence of the transformation made.


The ground floor is public and closely linked to urban use. The main stairway giving access to the new headquarters has been kept. From the ground floor, there is also access to the basement. In this way, the building is divided functionally and the most valuable part of the old structure is maintained: the first section and main access.

The new second floor is distributed as an open-plan office floor: the use of the floor area is optimised by concentrating the vertical core of communications, installations, and toilets at a central point, around an opening illuminated from above. Another floor was designed within the existing height of the building. This privileged vantage point offers a splendid view of Gijón.


The main stone facade was restored, correcting as far as possible the deterioration of the dressed-stone fabric. Discolorations were cleaned, the openings redefined and their dimensions regularised, while added elements - balcony railings and floors - were either eliminated or replaced. The breast walls and wrought iron bracing of the first floor balconies were replaced with sheets of laminated glass while the base was replaced with one made of 4 cm thick Indaten®, a steel with improved resistance to atmospheric corrosion.

A double sheet of glass defines the perimeter of the back facade. The outer sheet is made of laminated glass decorated with chestnut panels; it is supported with special stainless steel fastenings that give it a slight inclination from the vertical to ensure the ventilation of the intermediate chamber. This chamber is accessible for cleaning the glass and maintenance tasks. It also provides space for the passage of services, for the structural pillars, as well as the secondary structure that supports the outer glass panel. The side wall of the front section was replaced with another of similar characteristics, with windows of more appropriate dimensions.

Roofing & skylight

In the front section, where the original wall has been kept, the solution chosen was a half hipped-roof with a steel beam structure, which houses the service room constructed under it. The existing old tiles, placed on micro-corrugated panels, were reused to cover it. The roof of the back section is made of copper sheeting. The incorporation of a skylight in the corner over the stairs, a slightly sloping glass panel supported on steel sections, further enhances the natural lighting of the interior.


Inside the building, the doors are made of wood with stainless steel doorframe liners, machined to a matt finish. In the glass partition walls, the tempered glass doors swing on stainless steel mechanisms in the ceiling and floor, also machined to a matt finish.


During the execution of the structural work, the existing facade to be kept was stabilised with self-supporting units of ballasted scaffolding. The building has six floors, two of them set back, and a foundation slab at ground level.  The floors are open areas with supports arranged around the perimeter and a single central pillar.

In view of the special characteristics of the construction, rolled steel was used for some of the structural items of fundamental importance for the stability of the whole building, and even for the architectural characteristics of the design.

The horizontal structure consists of a solid slab of uniform thickness which transmits its vertical stresses onto concrete or steel pillars distributed around the perimeter and in the centre of the floor area. On the side opposite to Recoletas Street, the slab is supported on steel sections cantilevered out from the perimeter pillars.

Project information

  • Gijón
  • Spain
  • Architect:
    Ruiz-Larrea & Asociados
  • 2005
  • Photographer:
    Ruiz-Larrea & Asociados