This month we’ll talk about another of ENERO Arquitectura’s areas of specialisation: heritage intervention projects.

ENERO Arquitectura has carried out more than 76,000 m2 worth of projects in this field, with works as significant as the restoration of the historic 16th-century Donlebún Towers Palace. To find out more about this type of project, we interviewed Ana Armero, our Director of Projects and specialist in this type of intervention, to ask her about her unique knowledge.

We enquired about the keys to this type of intervention in historical projects as well as the challenges faced by ENERO Arquitectura in this field.


La arquitecta y Directora de Proyectos de ENERO Arquitectura Ana Armero.

La arquitecta y Directora de Proyectos de ENERO Arquitectura Ana Armero. Fotografía de Patrice Capa.


Question: When did your interest as an architect begin in the restoration of historic buildings?

My final project to complete my architecture degree from the ETSAM was entitled ‘56 Dwellings to reINHABIT Lavapiés. I proposed a method to increase the density of urban centres like Madrid by improving the characteristics of existing housing. The intervention established a system to relocate the inhabitants displaced by the roof repairs on their buildings that were a part of a neighbourhood improvement project. This action prevented them from leaving the neighbourhood. 


I intentionally used the word ‘re-inhabit’ in a place of restoration. I believe that when we restore a building, we get it back to livability and the means to be inhabited again. Buildings abandoned due to their deterioration are given new life by recovering and protecting all the historical and artistic values with which they were conceived.


The way we live gives meaning to buildings. If we focus on restoring them but not living in them, the difficult maintenance will end up condemning them to new degradation processes that will increase their deterioration in the future.



Question: Could you give a brief summary of the studio’s heritage intervention projects? Which ones would you highlight?

ENERO Arquitectura has significant experience in restoring Spanish artistic heritage buildings, from the restoration of the Marqués de Santa Cruz Palace to more recent projects such as the Olite Parador. This Roman building occupies the oldest wing of the Palace of the Navarrese Kings. It was enlarged in the 15th century and is the most important example of civil Gothic architecture in Navarre.


In the studio we have completed more recent building restauration projects such as the Jávea Parador and the Parador in Segovia. This building, built in 1973, is a mixture of Brutalist and Regionalist styles. The combination of concrete, brick and glass lends a distinctive, avant-garde identity to this timeless classic.


Fotografía exterior del Parador de Olite

Fotografía exterior del Parador de Olite. Imagen propiedad de Paradores.


Question:  What other professionals does your team count on when it comes to approaching this type of project?

My approach to this kind of project is quite horizontal. A multidisciplinary team, both internal and external, tackles the tendering from the earliest stages in these complex projects. During the initial phases we maintain a dialogue with architects, quantity surveyors, installation and structural engineers, archaeologists, historians and other stakeholders. This knowledge allows us to approach the job with a backpack full of the best tools. This process will reduce on-site costs, execution times and unforeseen events to achieve planning in line with the ownership’s requirements.



Question: What role do materials play in historical heritage projects? How important is the use of materials, building systems or structures from those times?

In heritage intervention, it is very important to determine the physical state of the building. Therefore, at ENERO Arquitectura we make a precise diagnosis, just as a doctor does not prescribe something without being sure of the illness. We perform optical diagnostic tests and take samples in order to find out what is causing damage to the building.


The aim of ENERO Arquitectura is to be as respectful as possible to the building, conserving the materials to try to recover and enhance the value of the original project. During the construction process we collaborate with local artisans who know the techniques to restore this type of building. For the Ciudad Rodrigo Parador, a 14th-century castle-fortress, we had a team of local woodworkers carry out the carpentry for the project. We collaborated on the design with these professionals to achieve the best possible result.


For the Olite Parador, we traced the location of the quarries where the building’s original stone was excavated in order to repair the towers and battlements of the palace. This natural stone from Navarre is called Ivori, a type of limestone.


For the restoration of an Indiano house in Asturias, we collaborated with a master lime artisan, Julio Barbero, during the façade restoration phase of the project. This collaboration helped us to improve the thermal conditions of the house, reinterpreting the sgraffito, mouldings and lime plaster of the original, early 20th-century house.


Fotografía del Parador de Ciudad Rodrigo.

Fotografía del Parador de Ciudad Rodrigo. Imagen cedida por Paradores.

Fotografía del Parador de Ciudad Rodrigo.

Fotografía del Parador de Ciudad Rodrigo. Imagen cedida por Paradores.

Fotografía del Parador de Ciudad Rodrigo.

Fotografía del Parador de Ciudad Rodrigo. Imagen cedida por Paradores.


Question:  In important projects such as the restoration of the historic Donlebún Towers Palace, you had to work on a 16th-century building. How does this affect both the approach to the project and the execution of the work?

Not only with the restoration of the Donlebún Towers Palace, but also with the work on the Olite and Ciudad Rodrigo Paradors, we did research in catalogues and archives on these historic buildings from the 15th and 14th centuries to learn about their history. Buildings go through wars that demolish parts of them, as well as extensions and changes of use and ownership. We see research as a precious task of unravelling the clues that lead us to the current building.


The word that defines our performance is always respect. We restore with respect to emphasise and enhance the value of the original building without adding noise or distortion. This is very important. We improve thermal conditions, accessibility, installation compliance and fire protection. We also carry out new interior distributions to provide the buildings with new uses. The intention is that the interventions will be invisible to the original building, always with maximum respect and humility.


Fotografía exterior de la rehabilitación del Palacio de las Torres de Donlebún.

Fotografía exterior de la rehabilitación del Palacio de las Torres de Donlebún.


Question: Do you think that caring for our historical heritage sets us apart?

Regarding the importance of our heritage as something that makes us unique, I would like to quote the reflection of the first Chinese architect to win the Pritzker Prize, Wang Shu. In a conversation with Antxu Zabalbeascoa, he said the following about the destruction of the millenary traditions that the revolution caused in his country: ‘There are two types of architects: those who start from a blank sheet of paper and build practically the same thing all over the world, and those who work on the basis of what exists, be it a place, a material or a tradition. They build with memory as well as ideas. In the tradition itself there has been a lot of progress, slowly but surely being updated’.


For me this idea is very important. We have a moral obligation as citizens to contribute to the maintenance of our cultural and artistic heritage so that we do not lose our memory of place. Tradition enriches us as a society and makes us distinct in this globalised world. 



Question: What is the future of ENERO Arquitectura in the field of heritage restoration?

At the studio we have reason to celebrate because we have just won the tendering for the restoration of the Gredos Parador, the first Parador opened in Spain during the reign of Alfonso XIII. We are also in the project phase for the restoration of the indoor swimming pool and the entire wellness area of the Parador in Segovia. We are also working on a very personal project, the renovation of an early 20th-century Indiano house in Asturias. A small-scale project that we are looking forward to working on.


Within the studio we are promoting knowledge in different areas of innovation and specialisation. We have included heritage restoration as one of the important pillars of this intangible knowledge of ENERO Arquitectura. As professionals we have a responsibility to society to contribute to the enhancement of the culture and art of architectural heritage.