Architecture Cultural Heritage

From church to library, Lavapiés (Madrid)

The first time I visited the Escuelas Pías de San Fernando in Lavapiés (Madrid), I fell deeply in love with it. This place really knows how to convey its history: it has adapted to a new functional programme, its use is ongoing and defined, it has regenerated part of the neighbourhood, it has become a cultural attraction, it can be visited by the general public (from 9:15 to 10:00 am and from 21:15 to 22:00 pm)… and it is very AUTHENTIC!

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The Escuelas Pías were created in 1734. They were founded by José de Calasanz in 1597 in order to provide poor and abandoned children a faith-based education—as the pictures show, the coat of arms of the Piarist order remains—on the site that was previously occupied by the Hospital of the Aragoneses and the Hermitage of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. In 1797, the school had 1568 students.

The Neoclassical construction of what was the church and now is the library was finished in 1790.

Throughout the 19th century the school was extended multiple times . In 1936, during the Spanish civil war, the church, the school and the convent were raided and torn down shortly afterwards. The semi-ruined southwestern section housed the Lavapiés Cinema between 1950 and 1974. In 1979 the movie house was turned into the Lavapiés Theatre, which existed until 1984. From 1985 onwards, the old church became the cultural centre that is explained here.

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Oh, yes! Since the Escuelas Pías of Lavapiés were used as a background for great 1980s music videos, we can now see what state the building was in before the intervention…



The refurbishment project for the UNED lecture hall (which occupied the lot left empty after the Lavapiés Theater was torn down) and the library (the former church) within the ruins of the Escuelas Pías de San Fernando were designed by the Spanish architect José Ignacio Linazasoro, and today it is a seminal work because of its good practices regarding the intervention in architectural heritage.

The Escuelas Pías-Lavapiés design combines refurbishment, restoration and new construction, but one has the feeling of the place as a whole.

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The church, which is now the library, relates with the volume of the lecture hall not only visually, but also physically through a staircase that runs parallel to its walls . When you enter the library, the first thing you feel is the predominance of the RUIN above all other concepts. But then you start noticing the new materials, the light (its effects, its subtleties…), the layout of the reading desks along the old nave of the church and under the circular space delimited by the massive brick walls of the former dome…

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As an architect, I believe that in most cases “the devil is in the details” with regards to refurbishment projects. But in this case, one can go from perceiving the smaller scale of the design and appreciating the texture of the materials, to understanding its urban scale and seeing how the library relates with the public space. Everything has been thought out so well, that now you understand why I began this post confessing my admiration for it.

“Here, anyone can study”, was my friend Evapla’s reaction the moment she walked in. Later we ended up talking about Asplund and Kahn… Things that are good are always prompt spontaneous remarks, and what is good is good, especially ifit recalls the work of masters.

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Hurray for the best of Heritage!!! 😉

Until the next post,



Photographs by Libe Fdez. Torróntegui taken in February 2014, except for the historical pictures belong to the explanatory panels.

Sources consulted: Explanatory panels in the library and Arte en Madrid.

Original version of this article was published on


  1. Super interesting article. In Maastricht (The Netherlands) there is something quite similar, a church was transformed into a bookshop and it is amazing. 😀 I’m visiting Madrid in a few weeks and hopefully can make a stop there. Thanks for sharing 😀

    • Thank you, Be, for your comment, and sorry for taking a while to respond.

      I ‘know’ the library you are talking about through architecture magazines and the internet. It is on the top of my list of places to go when I visit Amsterdam. I still haven’t been to the Netherlands! I hope to fix this soon! 😉

      PS: On Instagram I’ve seen that you have REALLY enjoyed Madrid. That’s great!

  2. This is such a great intervention and it now is literally two of my favourite kinds of buildings in one! Yay Madrid!

    • Wow Stenette! You are such a traveler that I am sure you will soon visit Madrid. Do visit this place! It has limited opening hours (you can see that info in the post) but it’s definitely worth it. The best thing is that it is not recommended in a single, official guidebook, which makes it even more special.

      I agree: Yay Madrid!


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