“Carlos, I have bought a church!” When the architect Carlos Garmendia received a call from the designer Tas Careaga to tell him that he had become the owner of a church, he could not imagine that he was about to start one of the works that would end up projecting the name of the studio that he shares with Álvaro Cordero Iturregui , Garmendia & Lamb, all over the world. “Of course, this acquisition was very brave of him,” says Garmendia. “Many people who saw the ruin he had bought called him crazy and asked him if he was aware of what he had done. But he believed in that project and we, I imagine that with a slightly broader vision of the real possibilities given our profession, we saw it clearly from the beginning ”.
For the architectural firm, the potential that this place had in a ruin was enormous. Its spatial location, within a plot surrounded by mountainous landscape in the Biscayan municipality of Sopuerta (in the Las Barrietas neighborhood), is undoubtedly privileged. “It was what is said to be a dream for any architect. It was one of those situations in which you feel enormous envy of your client ”, confesses Garmendia. The small church was built in the second half of the 16th century and with the passage of time it underwent some remodeling until it finally became the ruins that Careaga decided to make his home.
“In this specific case we made a great effort to keep the remains of the church as we found them, only acting as necessary so that, once our work was finished, the building could continue to tell all the history it contained,” says the architect. Garmendia and Cordero like to think that each layer of paint, each remnant of mortar or each damaged stone in this place transmits what has happened throughout its existence. Starting from this belief, they raised their intervention in the church of Sopuerta using materials, tones and construction systems characteristic of our time, “almost romantically imagining that the next one who is lucky enough to work in this space in a few decades will also know how to read the stories that occurred in our century.”
The main challenge, he confesses to ICON Design Garmendia, was to work without the building collapsing during the process. “When we found the church, a large part of the roof had fallen, taking with it two vaults and exposing the entire interior, with the consequent risk of detachment of the walls and the vault of the altar. We were not totally calm until we did the hoop [elemento alargado de hormigón que evita las deformaciones transversales] perimeter tie of the walls and we close the interior with the new roof ”, he acknowledges. In the photographs of the making off From the project, the difficulties and complexity of the action carried out by the Garmendia & Cordero study can be appreciated.
The figure and personality of the client, the designer Tas Careaga Irazabal, promoter of the Taslab agency, was essential to carry out the reform, which lasted over three years. He was in charge of the interior design, which extracts pieces and ideas from the history of 20th century design. “The client always has a primary role in any project, but in this case, it was even bigger. Tas’s creative concerns, together with her passion for creating any artifact with her hands, made the contact throughout the process continuous and uninterrupted ”.
As they explain in the project report itself, from the beginning they understood their part of the work as the prologue of what was going to happen there. “Our task was to lay the foundations on which to continue advancing, we knew that Tas was not going to end there and that this project would be in continuous evolution and that is still the case today,” says Garmendia.
The reform of the Sopuerta church has earned the Bilbao studio professional recognition and great international media coverage. “Now the curiosity aroused in the town that a person bought a church is a few miles away. When the whole work was finished, Tas was already one more neighbor, although you can imagine that, although with a lot of affection, they still see Tas a bit Martian ”.
The strangeness that Tas Careaga awakens is also not unreasonable considering that few people usually sleep in an old 16th century church transformed into a contemporary space where they dialogue, without any kind of prejudice, the historical past and the brighter present.
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