Fortified Towns & Popular
Architecture in the Álava Mountains Region: A Multipolar Model
for Cultural Heritage Revitalization
Isabel Rodriguez Maribona, Igone Revilla, and Mónica
“Each community, by means of its collective memory and consciousness of
its past, is responsible for the identification as well as the
management of its heritage. Individual elements of this heritage are
bearers of many values, which may change in time. The various values in
the elements characterise the specificity of each heritage. From this
process of change, each community develops an awareness and
consciousness of a need to look after their own common heritage values.”
Álava Mountains Region contains a group of historic towns that represent
a precious heritage of stone walls and popular architecture located in a
natural environment with agricultural and cultural landscapes. The place
confers strong identity and a deep sense of belonging to its
this context we propose to strengthen synergies in order to coordinate
and strategically improve different cultural heritage initiatives. An
innovative global vision was created to improve citizens’ quality of
life, supported by public-private support.
Historic towns and villages, in their rustic terrain, represent an
essential part of our universal heritage. They should therefore be seen
as a whole, with the structures, spaces, and human factors in the
process of continuous evolution and change. This involves all sectors of
the population and requires an integrated planning process, encompassing
a range of different activities.
Cultural heritage management has the
potential to integrate networks of small and medium-sized heritage
towns, stimulating social, environmental, and economic interaction and
also improving diversity and unity.
this context, our intervention considers the towns’ morphological,
functional, and structural whole, operating as part of their territory,
citizens, economy, environment, and surrounding landscape.
Fig 1. Alava Mountains Region
study area comprises six Head Towns – Constrasta, San Vicente, Orbiso,
Antoñana, Corres and Maeztu; some smaller Complementary Towns; and their
Natural, Agricultural and Cultural Landscapes Network.
Fig. 2 Development
challenge was to develop a multipolar model to revitalize the
preservation of heritage and the territory more broadly, integrating
natural and cultural heritage as an active agent of development;
understanding the region as the physical
framework for an inclusive society; and enhancing people’s
capacity to transmit knowledge from generation to generation.
Previous studies had been carried out to identify some crucial strengths
and opportunities in the following areas:
Environmental: High environmental
quality of the whole territory; high quality of natural resources; high
quality of landscapes; strong local identity reinforced through
landscape elements; perception of the territory as a bridge between
towns and rural environments; dynamic local stakeholders in the
preservation of natural and cultural heritage.
Regional: existing network of head
and complementary urban settings; good transport infrastructures;
multiple roads with historic interest; proximity between different urban
settings; agricultural activities; industrial parks; medium size cities
that could cooperate in territorial regeneration.
Urban: an important heritage of stone
walls and popular architecture in fine condition; consolidated urban
structures; networks of public spaces; homogeneous scale; attractive
special architectural sequences; emblematic buildings and powerful
elements of identity; close relationships with the rural environment;
the archaeologically valuable irrigation system from a Paleolithic
Social: high quality of life and
healthy environment; strong identity and sense of belonging from the
citizens and the young people who live in big cities and return to their
town origins for weekends and holidays; deep-rooted cultural tradition
linking cultural and natural heritage; cooperation between different
organizations of regional towns; active cultural organizations.
Economic: renowned local delicacies
have won the “Basque Quality Label,” including Alava Mountain potatoes,
honey from Antoñana, Idiazabal cheese from San Vicente de Arana, black
sausage from Maeztu, and bread from Santa Cruz de Campezo; existence of
native resources with productive potential (cultural heritage,
the other hand, we have defined some threats and weaknesses:
perception of the value of the cultural heritage;
of professional and legal measures to protect the cultural heritage;
of agricultural practices;
of environmental impact monitoring;
complementary relationships between different urban settings;
of built heritage;
urban equipment on town and territorial scales;
of articulation between spatial sequences;
communication elements, such as sign postage and directions;
of special activities for different group of citizens;
and increase of elderly citizens;
in generating new economic dynamics;
and Territorial Strategies: Multipolar model and Multidisciplinary
starting point for defining the strategic position of the Álava Mountain
Region is to recognize our principal objective, cultural heritage
revitalization, and also the potential number of citizens, tourists, and
investors involved. At the same time, it is vital to identify the
stakeholders, to develop a benchmarking study, and to review the
project articulates a holistic approach, combining a multipolar model of
urban-territorial regeneration and management with a multidisciplinary
vision. The multipolar model stimulates complementarities between the
cultural heritage of the territory and the different historic towns. The
multidisciplinary vision translates this strategy into tangible and
measurable objectives focused on sustainable outcomes.
approach may well certify the value of this strategy as a powerful tool
in the sense that it can generate positive cultural, social,
environmental, and financial externalities.
Urban and territorial networks, hubs, and
actions were combined in nine strategic lines
to start up a driver project with capacity to attract resources.
Fig 3. Urban and Territorial Strategies
I. Small- and Medium-Scale Towns Network: Sustainable Interaction
establishing the strategy for the achievement of the overall vision, it
is necessary to define several objectives. One of them will be to
involve the actors most affected by the objectives to be achieved so
that they will become willing contributory partners in the process.
These actors include: citizens, public administrations, technical
experts in various disciplines, and the private sector. It seems
particularly relevant to engage the interest and involvement of citizens
and public administration in this work, as they represent the areas
where the current problems lie and the areas that can provide the
testing ground for each of the innovations defined in this paper.
Moreover, they will be the greatest beneficiaries of a successful
outcome to the multipolar model proposed. In a parallel way, it is
important to set down the main areas for research that will support the
implementation of the objectives. These will inevitably overlap in
several aspects and will contain themes on which, in some cases,
continuous work will be required. Other themes will follow a critical
route, where additional investigations must be completed before the main
research work can begin.
small- and medium-scale towns’ networks, as well as the creation of hubs
and actions looking for a sustainable interaction, consolidate a driver
project, and they will present a new way of cultural heritage
Heritage & educational projects
Experimental Centre for the Popular Architecture Conservation
VICENTE DE ARANA
and Natural heritage & agricultural activities
for ecological products development and rehabilitation of
Cultural heritage & social equipment
of stone wall and heritage water system
the equality place
heritage & social and educational public services
Experimental Centre for the regeneration of Stone Wall Towns
heritage & economic initiatives
@ Workshop for
design products development and rehabilitation of popular
and natural heritage & environmental actions
Fig 4. Driver project
II. Mobility and Communication: Historic Towns and Landscape Exploration
Álava Mountains Region is an attractive natural area surrounded by three
nature reserves–Entzia, Codes, and Izkiz. With the existing paths,
tracks, and roads, it offers a great opportunity for the incorporation
of natural and cultural heritage. The other element relevant to
territorial regeneration is the presence of a derelict rail track.
existence of these combined elements is valuable in allowing the
articulation of a green network that connects historic towns with
natural, agricultural, and cultural landscapes. These elements can be
complemented by special services with high environmental qualities.
III. Environmental and Cultural Network: Natural, Agricultural, and
integration of natural, agricultural, and cultural landscapes as a
strategy has been considered as a key issue of development. Some
specific characteristics have been studied in depth:
landscapes as having value in multiple arenas: aesthetic, economic,
natural heritage, as an environmental quality indicator, and as a
citizens’ identity constructor;
landscapes as a synthesis of cultural and natural heritage, and as
reference of social identity; and
landscapes as reserves of economic power.
is important to combine several conditions in the regeneration of the
area: environmental quality
without cultural, social, and economic deterioration; managing natural
resources to encourage culture, tourism, and recreational activities;
stimulating cultural and natural heritage as a development key as
opposed to high impact activities, low quality tourism, or increasing
III. Popular Architecture and an Educational Project: Experimental
Center for Vernacular Architecture Conservation
Popular architecture construction systems require constant maintenance
programs and timely small interventions. The most difficult barrier to
overcome in establishing such maintenance programs is the lack of
sensitivity and know-how about cultural heritage from all of the
stakeholders: rural public administrations, craft construction SMEs,
owners who want low quality modern patterns, and architects without
specific knowledge, among others.
creation of an Experimental Center for Vernacular Architecture
Conservation has two main purposes: 1) to train
construction professionals in the application and conservation of
traditional constructive techniques, and 2) to raise the value of
cultural heritage as a social and economic asset of the region. The
launch will require a strong public effort in terms of human resources,
materials, coordination, and cooperation.
IV. Stone Wall Towns and Urban Regeneration: Experimental Center for the
Regeneration of Stone Wall Towns (ECRSWT)
ECRSWT will be a place for an interdisciplinary think tank about
specific conservation and regeneration problems, including the promotion
of responsible intervention leadership, the integration of socioeconomic
and urban issues, and encouraging the maintenance of urban structures
and unique cultural heritage features.
ECRSWT will engage in two kinds of activities:
1) information dissemination and community participation programs, and
2) offering educational activities for all the stakeholders involved.
The Center will offer a library with technical documentation,
interpretation resources, and information on the conservation and
socioeconomic revitalization challenges of stone wall towns.
Center’s first site will be in Antoñana, where a laboratory for
technologies and methodologies will be created. Recurring and
one-time workshops on theoretical and practical issues will present
different aspects of stone wall towns’ regeneration:
compatible activities and favorable measures
relationships between citizens and stone walls
and constructive: how to consolidate and preserve stone walls and
their semi-detached buildings
and legal: property and heritage preservation
planning, construction, and evaluation
ECRSWT will organize activities like technical guiding visits to stone
walls, conferences to present current projects, and community
participation activities. It will also develop specific seminars for
each group of stakeholders.
V. Historic Water Systems and Urban Structure: Previous Studies for Its
Integration into the Cultural Heritage Asset Network
Water management is a crucial issue in the organization of everyday life
in rural areas. Its study will deepen knowledge about previous social
and ecological strategies in the region. Additionally, water is an
evocative element of well-being and has the emotive power to expand our
sensory sphere. Artificial incorporation of water into the plans of
parks and gardens is an old tradition that we still enjoy.
documentation, study, and comprehension of the Álava Mountains Region
water system will offer new approaches for regeneration and new social
and economical improvement strategies.
starting point will be the recognition of three basic physical
Structures of capture: different types include river
waterwheels and cisterns for dispersed water in dry areas.
Structures of conduction: these include water pipes that
connect rural and urban areas, as well as canals, galleries,
Structures of distribution: water is delivered to each plot
through special systems, depending on the social and economic
organization of communities.
next step will be to locate each structure on a topographic map,
differentiating the dimensional, typological, constructive, and material
points of view. In a parallel way, a group of experts will consolidate
documentation from public libraries and poll citizens for undocumented
data. This analysis will allow the reconstruction of the old physical
VI. Bioclimatic Architecture: Research and Innovation
architectural dimension leads us to study bioclimatic solutions for
cultural heritage and for new interventions. A permanent R&D workshop
will be located in Corres and act as a catalyst for urban regeneration
and cultural heritage interventions. It will develop activities in the
Bioclimatic architecture: evaluating buildings’ energy
conditions and needs; promoting energy saving and integrating
renewable energy infrastructures; researching nontoxic and
energy-efficient materials, from production to useful life;
recycling and reutilizing construction wastes; recovering
traditional construction systems.
Bioclimatic urban development: encouraging sustainable urban
planning, recovering natural patterns; planning new urban areas;
studying geomorphology, vegetation, and sun and water conditions;
analyzing climatic needs; designing public space, green areas,
streets, and roads; improving the waste cycle; developing new
materials and constructive systems.
Renewable energy: focusing on sun, wind, and biomass energy,
a pilot project will introduce R&D results into urban regeneration
policies, strategies, and projects, showing a new way of working
with bioclimatic architecture and cultural heritage in Corres.
Conservation and regeneration of cultural heritage and urban
structure: avoiding alterations in urban structure; reviewing
urban plans; favoring rehabilitation over new construction;
elaborating new legal frameworks by focusing on soil, uses, and
cultural heritage; protecting specific instances of cultural and
natural heritage; recovering old rail tracks as green corridors;
introducing green areas at different scales: parks, streets, houses,
Conservation and protection of natural heritage:
disseminating sustainable uses for natural resources; qualifying
young people to create green communal nurseries; developing
small-scale ecological product industries; inventorying natural
assets that explain the dynamics of ecosystems.
Analysis of best practices: analyzing new productive systems
based on sustainable parameters that recognize cultural and natural
heritage as support, condition, and power of production processes;
designing and applying new systems that promote an equilibrium
between the preservation of cultural and natural heritage and the
promotion of economic and social benefits; researching
ecologically-sound agriculture and bioclimatic architecture that
increases quality of life; stimulating initiatives to respect
popular architecture, archaeology, history, and traditions;
improving communication and shared programs between different
Alternative production activities: promoting agricultural and
industrial small-scale activities; encouraging the creation of small
enterprises and community organizations; sponsoring workshops
focused on sustainability and development.
Dissemination: supporting the commercialization of
agricultural products; dispersing bioclimatic architecture;
promoting specific seminars.
VII. Land Art and Public Art: Interrelated Dynamics
Including art in urban and regional regeneration is a way to open up new
horizons for old citizens and a way to attract new ones. Three steps are
fundamental in initiating this strategic line: 1) improve the framework
for art expansion, rehabilitating cultural heritage and its urban scene,
creating new landmarks, exploring the visualization of urban axes and
elements; 2) provide new cultural hubs; and 3) develop artistic
activities of different disciplines for diverse social groups. These
measures will deliver impacts at various venues: art-urban
landscape-buildings, where architecture is the space for art
expression; art-society-economy, where culture,
participation, community, and art are the key issues; and
art-landscape-territory, where cultural roads facilitate the
discovery of art and an unusual connection with the whole area and its
Urban spaces rehabilitation: stimulate art, design, and
architecture to enrich public spaces and social interaction; design
human-scale spaces, respecting local traditions and community
identity; use materials and textures sensitive to the urban
Land art: strengthen the relationship between people and the
natural environment, encouraging art manifestation in landscapes;
alter landscapes with short-term interventions for artistic
purposes; rescue local traditions by involving citizens and
Cultural hubs: create new public centers with art as a tool
to expose community to culture; develop supporting elements in
villages, like art hotels, art schools in rural environments, and
cultural and conference centers; special events.
VIII. Economics Dynamics Hubs: Green Workshop and @ Workshop
goal of studying the economics of the Álava Region Mountain and specific
development projects has been to look—from a regional perspective–for
indigenous potential, for the growth of internal resources, and for the
rise of internal capacities.
intention was to buoy the regional economy through two complementary
projects: the Green Workshop, based on the development of
ecologically-sustainable agricultural products, and the @ Workshop,
based on ecologically-sound industrial design products. Both workshops
will be installed through the rehabilitation of popular architecture in
Maeztu and San Vicente de Arana.
strategies will seek to promote a creative economy, small enterprise,
and regional competitiveness through the design and development of new
products with high added value and innovative solutions. Our key words
in this strategy are: Innovation, Constant Learning, and Interaction.
Innovation: to increase regional competitiveness and as a
small enterprises improvement engine, attracting new ideas, human
resources, and financial inputs.
Constant Learning: for young people, to motivate and share
novel ideas, problems, insecurity, and experiences with different
Interaction: for the consolidation of a local and global
network of people, projects, and places.
approach will involve old and new citizens, regenerate urban areas,
rehabilitate cultural heritage, and consolidate social identity.
IX. Social Dynamics Hubs: Quality of Life, Social Inclusion, and
order to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of the area,
special attention needs to be given to the region’s primary problems: an
aging population, the pull of the bigger cities that attract young
people, and the dearth of opportunities for more vulnerable sectors of
this rural society, notably women and young people. Therefore, the
efforts in this area were directed at increasing motivation, helping
these less well-off sectors of society improve their entrepreneurial
capacities, and carving out a future for them in their villages. The
goal is to stimulate:
real opportunities for decent and attractive jobs,
partnerships between local groups and associations with other
institutions to improve their communities, and
rural tourism, with real potential to maintain and promote cultural
and natural heritage.
Three main strategic lines were identified:
Inclusion, self-employment, and social integration: The
actions included in this strategy are aimed at detecting the
training needs of the population while also studying employment
opportunities in the area. These actions would be complemented by
the identification of the specific barriers affecting the female
population and with the promotion of services to facilitate juggling
work and family life.
Cultural heritage and identity: This project is designed to
promote collaboration between local and regional institutions and
the local population in order to create a voluntary network of local
people to promote and disseminate local heritage.
Rural tourism: In line with the previous strategy, an
opportunity was identified to promote a model of ecotourism, an
activity orientated to enjoy nature in an active way, with the
purpose of understanding the natural and cultural values of the area
and its communities.
next step is to determine priorities for 2010, 2015, and 2020,
visualizing the innovations and breakthroughs required, establishing
indicators of validation, verifying and proposing new legislation, and
defining public-private financial models. Finally, the planning
implementation stage should evaluate its adherence to the strategic
plan, giving feedback on the global operative model.
integral part of this model for revitalization is the participation of
the inhabitants of the area, the people who will be a key element
determining the success or failure of the model’s implementation. The
participation strategy envisaged would start at the very beginning of
the process with an initial social study to involve and engage the
community and all the stakeholders involved. Community involvement will
be encouraged throughout the process by setting up consultation groups,
reference groups, and action groups.
concepts of sustainable development must be translated to a new
situation when dealing with cultural heritage.
We are building now the cultural
heritage of future generations: consequence-based advanced technologies
and practices must be used to keep our cultural heritage alive in the
more attractive towns.
These new practices include:
new economic models for an interactive and flexible cultural
the setting up of a
European PPCP (Public-Private-Citizen Partnership) for greater
societal involvement in the preservation of cultural heritage;
promotion of an integral management of cultural heritage based on
its sustainable interaction with its environment;
promotion of historical knowledge to encourage new and more
eco-efficient construction and materials; and
re-establishment of the preservation of cultural heritage as a
priority for city management techniques, with the objective of
setting up dynamic urban regeneration and active regional
These development goals are challenging.
We all hope that the Álava Mountains
Region multipolar model for cultural heritage revitalization will
leave a positive impression in its territory and its citizens.
Isabel Rodriguez Maribona, PhD, is an engineer and Head of Cultural
Heritage, Building and Territorial Development Unit, LABEIN, Spain.
Igone Revilla is an urban sociologist and with the Building and
Territorial Development Unit, LABEIN, Spain. Mónica Zgaib is an
architect and has a PhD in Urban Regeneration. She has collaborated
with the Building and Territorial Development Unit, LABEIN, Spain, and
other organizations on projects in South America, Europe, and China.
Fundación Labein (Labein) is a research and innovation center
located in the Basque Country Region, in Spain. The mission of
Labein is to support enterprises and administration bodies in
their research and innovation needs by means of research,
development and innovation projects – like GESPAR – as well as
in technology transfer, technological services, consulting,
training, and dissemination activities. Labein has a wide
experience in collaborative projects in the European Framework.
Actually has been involved or still involved in 40 projects from
the 6th FP, leading 10 of them. Among these projects 27 are in
relation to building and/or energy issues. Labein is leading
seven of them. The Construction and Environment Unit provides
services to the whole range of construction sectors:
construction product manufacturers, engineering and
architectures firms, constructors, and developers, users of
buildings and structures and administration bodies. Our
construction R&D activities are focused in the following areas:
Strategic management of building cultural heritage, Sustainable
city and urban regeneration, Environmental strategic management,
Process innovation, Sustainable Building and Nanotechnology.
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