INHABIT THE RUIN: Insights on transformation of depopulated villages in the Spanish Pyrenees.  

Intervention strategies for regeneration and adaptation of vernacular spaces and territories.

Depopulation is a phenomenon which affects to a large part of Spanish geography. It is estimated that around 2800 municipalities are currently abandoned, and around 4200 are at risk of disappearing in the next few years. Within it, there are certain regions which are particularly affected by this issue, being the areas in the mountains the ones with the deepest impact. Particularly, this study focuses on the regions of the Pyrenees.

The rural exodus toward the cities, of higher intensity from 1920s to 1980s, was mainly motivated by the Spanish industrial revolution, which led to many inhabitants to move to bigger towns to find better life and work conditions. On the other hand, massive expropriation of large areas, associated to the territorial policies of that period for construction of big water infrastructures or reforestation emptied whole valleys.

However in the last decades, this phenomenon has begun to revert, initiating a new paradigm represented by a slow process of repopulation and recovery of many of those hamlets, due to many different reasons. Improvement and development of infrastructures and new working systems, together with awareness of life conditions in the cities have motivated a new look to the rural environment and a return of people towards it. This growing trend, driven in parallel to the incessant expansion and polarization of the cities requires of a closer look and reflection about the new rurality.

The objective of the research is to analyze the spatial phenomena of depopulation and recovery of villages at the Spanish Pyrenees, and make a critical exploration on the different initiatives which have been developed on some of these numerous ruined settlements in order to bring life back to them, understanding its programmatic, spatial and material transformation, with the purpose of finding sustainable strategies and guidelines which can be extrapolated to other cases and areas.

The strategies of intervention are supported by the exploration through comparative study of specific case studies of intervened villages which are actively recovered: they have a permanent occupation and develop a productive activity. These case studies are a representative selection within their category, according to the system or process of transformation, and the type of stakeholders involved. At the same time, relevant cases in an international context will be marked out, in order to understand other approaches to the same problematic on a different framework.

The insights obtained from the deep analysis of different cases of re-population generate certain parameters, which lead to the formulation of intervention principles or guidelines that will be tested out on sample locations which fulfill similar characteristics as the successful case studies, as part of the research process. The outcome of the tests on different locations will be systematically studied and evaluated, comparing with the previous analysis and following the same methodology as the analysis of case studies. This will allow extracting conclusions and correcting progressively consecutive design principles and proposals, analyzing their degree of feasibility. These principles are linked to transformation in terms of access, urban structure, program, spatial and architectural adaptation, use and quality of collective spaces, etc. A clear vision of the state of the problem and a critical analysis of the existing possibilities and successful cases will also help to gather different stakeholders and administrations involved, and become a source of defining intervention strategies which may lead to innovative proposals.

This investigation will generate innovative knowledge on the field of re-generation of empty settlements, proposing alternative strategies to transform the existing spaces to establish productive communities and providing solutions to wider problems, such as depopulation, ageing of rural areas and loss of architectural and cultural legacy and identity.


-Keywords: Spatial transformation, Adaptive reuse, Re-inhabit, Recovery of Architectural and Immaterial Heritage, Local Identity, Territory, Sustainable communities, Flexibility.


PhD Project by Drs. Ignacio Galán (Promotor: Prof. Dr. Yves Schoonjans, co-promotor: Prof. Dr. Kris Scheerlinck)



*Source of pictures: Transformed village Isin. Project by C.A.B. Arquitectura
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