Architecture: Black as coal

(February 2010) When architects aim to lend the character of a coal mining region to buildings, the result is invariably dark. Coal, is literally black as is the economic situation of citizens in the region. Most of them have not achieved anything near wealth despite years of hard labour. Mining history is full of dire stories of accidents and misery. At least this was how Emile Zola (1885) described life in the region in his novel „Germinal“ or Richard Llewellyn in „How Green was my Valley“ (1939).

Powerfully best describes how the Madrid, zon-e team of architects solved the challenge in Asturia’s Cerredo: The social housing project comprising 15 flats for miners rests like a huge block of black stone at the rim of the town. The exterior is entirely clad in black slate, but the balconies protrude like huge rectangular bull’s eyes through the slate siding and allow a magnificent view of the landscape.

Since the balconies seem to glow in the dark when the flats are lit, the building takes on an air of familiarity and hospitality. The contrast between dark and light is a reflection of miner’s relationship with the pit, or as insiders put it: on the one hand he fears and loathes the pit, on the other hand it feeds him and his family and is almost like a second home to him.

The architects describe their project in an effusive press release like this: „The formal result is something halfway between a petrified object, a mountain’s shape and a disturbing organism floating over the mountainside“, a rather liberal interpretation. But, in fact, the building does have a somewhat petrified age-old air about it, nevertheless being distinctly alive and light-footed. The latter due mostly to the recessed pedestal on which the building seems to rest.

The interior is also interesting. Each apartment has its own layout and individual size. But all are integrated in the building in such a manner that the flats are ventilated throughout – a winning feature as temperatures rise to unpleasantly high levels not only in the pits a few hundred meters below ground.

Cerredo is situated in the mining region of Degaña in the Northern Spanish Principality of Asturia. The costs of building the 15 apartments are estimated at 1.2 Million € for a total of 2385 m² living area. Initiator was the regional Principado de Asturias Government.

A second building set at right angles to its precursor is in planning.


Photos: Ignacio Martinez