Josep Ferrando Architecture transforms the prison into a shelter for the homeless

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Barcelona-based architectural firm 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, 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 room

Named El Roser Social Center in Tarragona, Catalonia, the building used to be the prison of Reus and then a school.

Josep Ferrando Architecture collaborated with the Gallego Arquitectura architecture studio from Reus to carefully refurbish the 1920s building, as it has been listed as an Asset of Local Interest and included in the Register of Architectural Heritage of Catalonia.

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

The architecture firm reused much of the original structure, built in 1929 before being converted into a school in the 1970s, “to recover its constructive essence and rediscover the memory of the place”.

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

Josep Ferrando Architecture removed the wall that surrounded the prison courtyard and replaced 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 housed in a steel and glass annex, while the more private shelters and common areas are housed in the original structure.

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

The studio has retained the original prison door and introduced new windows and wet areas reminiscent of the originals so the center still has the prison feel.

While the space remains austere, furniture has been added to create a sense of warmth for the guests staying there.

Photos of a prison corridor
The building was chosen with urban renewal and carbon efficiency in mind

The site was rehabilitated for the Reus City Council, with the building remaining as part of the area regeneration and for carbon efficiency reasons.

“The argument for not demolishing a building was primarily a question of heritage preservation,” said Josep Ferrando Architecture.

“The priceless loss of heritage and memory comes with the equally important loss of retained energy that a new building replacing the existing one cannot compensate.”

Other articles on the prison conversion featured on Dezeen include the Berlin prison conversion into a hotel, the prison conversion by EPR Architects and the Bodmin prison renovation.

The photograph is by Adrià Goula.

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