From the Rural Ashes – Archiprix 2020

With her project ‘From The Rural Ashes’ Paula Cores Barral seeks to give an architectural answer to the problem of depopulation in the rural area of Galicia in northern Spain.

Library of tools for a vibrant rural community

Library of tools for a vibrant rural community

Can you briefly explain your choice of subject?
In Spain both depopulation and abandoned villages in rural areas have been on the news since years. As I come from such an area, I’ve been always aware but also strongly worried about this issue. Since my childhood, I’ve been visiting other rural regions in Spain and it was during one of those visits that I thought I must do something to help the world I belong to, in terms of architecture.

The idea stayed in my mind till we had to choose the subject for graduation. On that moment and with the help of other students, the idea revived and seemed a perfect choice, fitting the starting requirements established by the academy for graduation.

Floor plan

Floor plan of the library at the monastery of San Paio (Galicia, Spain). 01 ceramics workshop 02  textile workshop 03 basket weaving 04 storage 05 farm workshop 06 refrigeration 07 workshop 08 garden 09 eira: traditional courtyard 10 medicinal plants 11 ruins 12 almáciga: the books 13 multi-purpose room 14 living room

What or who are your sources of inspiration?
There are many and they come from different fields. In architectural terms, I deeply appreciate the work of Peter Zumthor because of the extraordinary materialization. I also find the work of Lina Bo Bardi extremely inspiring because of the way she deals with social complexities.

I mainly like to use sources from outside the architectural world, and always get inspired by the daily news which helps me to understand the situation we are living in. In understanding this, I feel I can create architecture that is useful in to our society. Because if architecture is not a useful tool for our society, it is something else than architecture. For example, my project has a space called the ‘almáciga’. The space aims to be an active library which gathers all the local memories to preserve them in time. I heard about this in the radio program: Carne Cruda. They have a section where they talk about the rural world and the concept of ‘almáciga’, a collection of rural words they are reactivating in order to save them for getting lost. I tried to transform this concept into an architectural space which could fit in the idea of the project.

Eira: the traditional courtyard.

State the key moment in your graduation project?
Apart of the importance of visiting the place and talking with the inhabitants, there were two essential moments. The first moment was after reading the book ‘España Vacía’ (Empty Spain) by Sergio del Molina. Thanks to this book I clearly understood the process of depopulation and got inspired by las Misiones Pedagógicas which helped me to come up with a feasible program for rural areas. Reading the book strengthened my belief and position in argueing that re-activating the rural is possible and needed.

The second was also after reading a book written by María Sánchez called ‘Tierra de mujeres(Woman’s Land). It helped me to clearly define what my ultimate goal in this process was. After reading the book, the pieces of the process/puzzle fell together in harmony and common coherence.

Section through workshops

Section through workshops, eira and almáciga. From the forest to the crops.

Project text
From The Rural Ashes seeks to give an architectural answer to the problem of depopulation in the rural area of Galicia in northern Spain. This it does through a process of observations and dialogues. The ‘library of tools’ is a new concept designed to tackle that problem. This architectural solution makes use of an object now in disuse, namely the ruins of the San Paio Monastery.

The countryside is emptying, leaving a landscape of ruins. Nearby cities are exerting a strong pull on the inhabitants of rural areas. This exodus to the cities continues to increase and rural life, once in equilibrium with the earth, is disappearing.
This situation can be clearly seen in A Ribeira Sacra, the region in Galicia where the San Paio Monastery is located. The region has lost 40 per cent of its population in the last few decades. At first glance, the ruins seem to be traces of a distant past. A closer look makes clear the links with depopulation. It also reveals that the hurly-burly of city life has been given priority and that the countryside has become neglected and has slipped from view.

Workshops, space for making things.

Workshops, space for making things.

From The Rural Ashes proposes a communal facility, the library of tools, set in the ruins of A Ribeira Sacra to counter the depopulation and revive rural life. Rural inhabitants will be able to earn a living from a trade thanks to the knowledge, tools and amenities found in the library. By the same token, city-dwellers will have a place to discover and appreciate rural knowledge and skills.

Architecture takes shape in the library through dialogue: with the city, the surroundings, the past and the original inhabitants. It issues from points of encounter with the city, activities that connect it with the surroundings, spaces to relay narratives and places to encourage coexistence among inhabitants.
The almáciga (where memories are held), the workshops (where the tools are stored) and the living spaces (places to gather) represent that architecture in and around the ruins. They all come together in the traditional courtyard, the eira.

Almáciga, space for regional memories.

Almáciga, space for regional memories.

The dialogues that enable the architecture have wood as their common denominator. The use of wood throughout the project represents the cohesion of the whole, uniting old and new ways of building, the way older and younger generations coexist in harmony.
From The Rural Ashes ultimately seeks to give, through the language of architecture, a voice and meaning to a rural world rendered invisible. It provides a place for connecting with the region and with its inhabitants, so that these may build towards future horizons.

Living room, space for the residents.

Living room, space for the residents.

Paula Cores Barral


AAS Tilburg, Architecture

Start graduation
September 2018

Finished graduation
June 2019

What are you doing now?
After graduation, I went back to Spain and nowadays I’m working at Proyectopía, a young studio of architecture which is mainly focused on achieving nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEBs), among other aspects.

In relation to the project, I’m planning to start the PhD in September 2020 to continue with the research. On the other hand, I’m also experimenting with other fields as illustration, fashion design or basketry.

What hope/do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and/or the distant future?
As an architect I always believed that we must work in the service of society but this concept seems too wide. Thanks to the graduation project I found a specific area to focus on.

I hope that project will be constructed, at least as a prototype. Meanwhile, I’m also working on a database of ruins and a manual for its restoration. In order to achieve this, there is a long process ahead which will take the shape of a PhD.

Link to research
Link to video