Repurposing La Carmela Hydroelectric plant as a Cultural Center

2023 Public Projects / Mexico / Built in 2022 /

The La Carmela Cultural Center project consisted of repurposing and restoring the industrial heritage of the Carmela Hydroelectric Plant (La Carmela), located at the foot of the Atoyac River, which dates back to 1906, and its surroundings as a cultural center and open green spaces. La Carmela was one of the two hydroelectric plants that served El Mayorazgo textile industry plant.

The place was abandoned since 1956 with the closure of the plant but two main features remained on the site: the former hydroelectric plant heritage buildings and the water infrastructure working in poor conditions that served the city of Puebla.

As part of the water supply system of the city on the northern area of the plot there was an open-air wastewater canal which diverts to the water treatment plant located on the east side. This canal divided the plot and represented a physical barrier preventing pedestrians to move freely across the area. The Atoyac River limits the plot at its southern end, where the surplus water of the treatment plant was discharged at the riverbank. Due to its proximity to the river, half of the plot is in a flood-prone area.

The surroundings of La Carmela developed as an informal settlement which is currently formalized and integrated into the urban fabric, however still lacking basic services, urban and pedestrian infrastructure. La Carmela is the only open and green space in the region.

Despite its historical relevance, the former hydroelectric plant buildings were completely abandoned. Visits to the site contributed to develop a deeper  understanding of its importance for the electricity  and water supply systems and its potential to become a public equipment for the region.  For this reason, the approach taken was to understand the place as an open-air museum, which guided the architectural program and the definition of the routes for the visitors.

The intervention area covering a total surface of 32,000 square meters was redefined by the designers, tackling not only the former buildings but also the urban environment, green and blue infrastructure, while exploring the cultural and heritage features of the site.

The immediate surroundings were also upgraded, including the construction of a formwork tunnel along the once open-air wastewater canal which crossed the property. Some elements such as the pipe support blocks, tunnels or stairs were reused as part of the hardscape for the main pedestrian circulation. Additional buildings are now integrated with the pre-existing structures to shape a new cultural complex. This complex includes a museum, cultural center, library, medical clinics, bike parking, workshops, skate park, as well as open green areas.

The La Carmela project explores the intersection between industrial heritage with nature-based solutions, and social equity, not only through the restoration of the two existing buildings but also by rescuing its memory and identity in Puebla’s former textile industries heritage.

In this context, the former water runoff defines the visitor’s route in an open-air museum where the site’s history is told, through the articulation of floating walkways around the heritage buildings.

The intervention offers a diverse architectural program, serving different users in a wide schedule, thus generating a multiscale and multiuse facility. The restoration of the two pre-existing buildings and the canal transformed the Carmela plant into a regional-scale cultural facility. The introduction of new buildings with local facilities, pedestrian infrastructure and public space serves the local scale.

Four lines of actions were explored by the intervention:

– Heritage restoration, by covering existing heritage buildings: the canal, and water infrastructure, the watchtower, and the powerhouse.

– Blue and green infrastructure, by recognizing existing natural runoff and flood-prone areas. Improving the conduction of wastewater towards the treatment plant by enclosing the open-air canal to generate a linear park with local vegetation.

– Architectural intervention, by constructing new elements as a complement to the cultural center with different facilities (i.e., cafeteria, administration, workshops, library, medical assistance, and bike parking).

– Urban intervention, public space, and landscape, by reducing the road area to offer a larger, tree-lined, and illuminated pedestrian walkway. By building a linear park with recreational and resting spaces, and a skatepark on the enclosed canal. Cleaning and consolidating existing secondary canals and slopes helped to incorporate a diverse local vegetation and a seasonal landscape marking two clear seasons: the rainy season and the dry season, thus promoting low maintenance and various environmental benefits leveraging nature-based solutions and reducing the risk of floods.

La Carmela was developed for the Secretary of Agrarian, Territorial and urban Development, SEDATU, within the Urban Improvement Program, with the objective of attending to the vulnerable population living in the region.

Location: Blvd. Las Carmelitas S/N, San Isidro Castillotla, 72498 Puebla, Puebla, México.
18.97305º N, 98.27494º W

Design year: 2021

Year Completed: 2022


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