A monumental presence for centuries, the most recent restoration of the Atarazanas market in Malaga presents it in its latest avatar – contemporary architecture blended into a framework that has remnants of styles dating back to the 14th century.
The heart of a city beats in its busy markets – where people of all kinds cross paths, where the hustle bustle veils the ups and downs of the city, where the walls map the timeline and where one can watch the changing relations of the city.
The Spanish city of Malaga boasts of such a gem, the Mercado de Atarazanas or the Atarazanas market, which has been witness to Malaga’s growth since the 14th century, when it was built as a shipyard in the Nazari period under Mohammed V.
The beauty of the market lies in the way it blends into the surroundings with ease; be it the ancient Moorish times or the present electronic age, rendering it eternal. Reopened in 2010 after being closed down for almost 2 years for restoration and recovery, the market welcomes traders and shoppers into a space that speaks both of its history and future.
‘Atarazanas’, translated is ‘a place where ships are repaired’, and since its conception as a shipyard during the rule of the Moors, it has seen many phases from being a convent under the Catholic rule, to an arsenal, a military hospital and barracks during the wars and a medical school before finally coming to its present identity as a market in 1879.
In the 19th century, Architect Joaquin Rucoba, was comissioned to rebuild the market, Rucoba built it in Neo-Arabic style, with slatted arched windows and panels, using the most modern building material of the 19th century – iron. Another reconstruction in 1908 by architect Fernando Guerrero Strachan gave the market its famed large stained glass window at the back showing the various monuments in the city such as the Cathedral, the Gibralfaro Mountain, the entrance of the Sagrario Chapel, and the Fountain of the Three Graces.
The final overhauling of the market was in 2008 by Spanish architectural firm Aranguren & Gallegos Architects, who were winners of a competition organised by the Ministry of Public Works for the rehabilitation and recovery of the market. They redesigned the market, in their words “to recover the original design of the old market under Rucoba architect plotting, enhancing its character and architectural monumentality.”
Work began on the market with the demolition of all past additions which were actually distorting the style, space and beauty of the original construction, like a mezzanine floor that only obscured the beautiful elements of the volume. As a result, the visual connection of the great axis of the Atarazanas Door and the stained glass window, disassembled and restored, was once again brought in sight, about which a local quipped, “In all these years we never knew such a great stained glass window existed in the market!”
The space, now unhindered, was planned as a large container into which market stalls as objects were introduced. Say the architects, “The design of the stalls takes cue from late sculptor Donald Judd’s workshop space – a large industrial structure that houses a sequence of tables on which are sculptural series of boxes in basic colours.”
The stalls are an antithesis of the original architectural style, yet there exists a dialogue with the historic structure, in its own contemporary language. The metal structures with stainless steel panelling are like a sequence of colour prisms and introduce a horizontal plane of new construction.
The understated facade also got a facelift after its red brick walls and the stone surfaces were restored along with the revamping of the metal structure topping the brick walls. The market is lined with innumerable arched windows and skylights on all sides and they have been cleverly used to an advantage in the current layout. Sunlight permeates through these arched openings to bathe the interiors in natural light throughout the day.
Rehabilitation of the structure also saw the recovery, rediscovery and overhauling of the roofs, the flooring, foundation and other architectural components like a buried well which was further extended. The roof was given a new lease of life with a layer of flat vitrified ceramic tiles that matched the original green and brown colours of the building and the laminated glass present on central nave above the stalls.
Circulation paths within the market around the 260 stalls were also reworked, creating new market streets that allowed better hygiene and maintenance. The design unified the new market paths, accesses, interiors spaces and basically the historic architectural essence into a singular entity defining the character of the new volume.
It is not an easy task to blend mod abstract ideas with traditional architectural elements, but the team at Aranguren & Gallegos Architects have given the market a contemporary personality without compromising its past identity, allowing the market building yet again, to narrate Malaga’s story.
Text By K Parvathy Menon
Photographs Courtesy Carlos Lozano and Fernando Alda