Cultural Heritage Industrial Heritage

The 2013 European Heritage Days in Harino Panadera Bilbao.

If there is an October event that fascinates me, it is the European Heritage Days. Today’s article tells the story of a visit to the former Harino Panadera Bilbao factory in 2013. As it is an administrative building nowadays, it is usually not open to the public, so let’s say that today’s virtual tour of the building is ‘almost exclusive’ ;-). I was very lucky to have seen it, and now you will be too!


The Harino Panadera Bilbao (an old factory which used to convert grain into baking flour) located in Basque Country, northern Spain, opened its doors in 1902 and was closed down in the 1990s. Describing its closing, it was ‘as if the machinery had suddenly stopped’, because during the research carried out before the intervention that would turn the building into what it is today, cereal remains in different processed stages were found, both in the halls and in the machinery.

harino-panadera-bilbao-factory-was closed down-1990s


harino panadera bilbao factory_administrative building

Of all of the buildings that made up the original complex, the only one that still stands is the construction housing the grain mill where different types of flours were produced. This is the oldest part of the Harino Panadera factory, dating back to 1902. In 1912, the factory was extended in order to house the cereal cleaning and acclimatizingcilities.


The intervention consisted of preserving the industrial building and its original machinery, and incorporating a new building (corresponding to the curved building seen in the pictures) as well as an administrative area to house the municipal Health and Consumer services.
For the restoration, the criteria laid out by different Restoration Charters were followed. These charters, deserving of a post entry themselves, are a series of international recommendations outlined for the preservation and restoration of heritage assets and define the criteria for restoration and preservation as authenticity, being able to differente between the existing and the new, the reversibility of that which has been done, etc..



The building’s load bearing structure, composed of reinforced concrete beams and columns, presented many construction pathologies. Since it was designed to support very heavy loads, and the new activity required significantly lighter loads, these pathologies were relatively easy to solve.

The factory has five floors through which, in vertical succession, the different phases of the transformation from grain into flour was carried out. The last floor has two roof levels. The lowest of the two, the flooded roof —typical of the industrial buildings at the time of its construction—has been restored given its historical value and its energy efficiency. Water adds thermal inertia (by adding mass to the roof) so temperatures remain constant in the winter and in the summer. The water level is controlled by a floating valve and fish (carps) take part in its maintenance.

harino panadera bilbao factory_escaleras fundición


Most of the machines that help describe the flour making process were recovered after the factory’s closure as well as the finishing of the inside spaces, such as the flooring and tiles. The new parts are slightly different from the old (differentiation criteria).

The point at which the new structure (the administration building) and the factory (the existing building) meet up is the access and communication space, which enables bringing the two parts together into a single, unitary structure through means of a vestibule.

The floor plans maintain their original spatial fluidity. As we can see in the pictures, glass partition walls were used.

The elevator and restrooms are located within two silos (their structures are still identifiable). The only feature that has been added on the inside is the staircase; and on the outside, the fire exit on the western facade.

harino panadera bilbao factory-Restoration-Charters

As I have already mentioned, it is fascinating to follow the milling process diagram of the flour factory, and the way in which the architecture that houses it has adapted to the constant innovation of the machinery and the evolution of processing: reception, storage, pre-cleaning, cleaning, acclimatization, milling, storage of flour, sub-products, packaging and dispatching. In order to carry out the intervention it was very important to understand each of these phases.

The province of Biscay (Basque country) is beginning to realize the importance of its valuable industrial heritage, and the refurbishment of former industrial facilities is becoming an increasingly accepted form of urban regeneration.



If that tingling feeling that one has when about to enjoy something that is ‘only for the very lucky’ is not enough, we were privileged to have exceptional guides for this visit: Mireia Viladomiu (from the very active Asociación Vasca de Patrimonio Industrial y Obra Pública (AVPIOP/IOHLEE) [Basque Association for Industrial Heritage and Public Works], Carlos Fernández Vasallo (the agricultural engineer in charge of the technical and historical aspects of the machinery during the project, who very patiently and in great detail explained all the processing stages to us ) and Aitor Fernández Oneka (the architect that directed the intervention, a great communicator who introduced some wonderful anecdotes into his story).

The success of a visit resides, largely, on its guides. And on the day we could not have had better company. The perfect mix between knowledge, communication, experience, enthusiasm…

I would like to thank all of those who carry out these kinds of interventions and are able to communicate them with such professionalism and passion. Thanks to you all.

Hurray for the best of Heritage!!! 😉

Until the next post,



Photographs by Libe Fdez. Torróntegui taken in October 2013.

Original version of this article was published on



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