Plaza de Mercado Grande borders Ávila’s eastern wall at a confluence of routes that connect a community of monasteries within and beyond the medieval city. As the traditional location of the weekly market, histories and memories of Ávila were inscribed into its surface, a record now lost beneath Rafael Moneo’s municipal office complex and underground car park - built despite outcry from local community and international heritage organisations.
The Civic Monastery offers redress by unearthing the generous civic potential beneath the Plaza’s surface. A varied programme of public spaces, informed by the typologies of the medieval monastery and carefully entangled in the concrete skeleton of Moneo’s now ruined intervention, invite the city’s voices back into the Mercado Grande through the housing of a new cast of citizens, organisers and craftspeople.
The existing market is accommodated within the former car park, alongside more permanent stalls. Above, cradled by the concrete skeleton, a guildhall overlooks the landscape, supporting community gatherings and mercantile negotiations. Productive activity, in the form of a flour mill, laundry and jeweller’s workshop, inhabit the empty office buildings, alongside dormitories for visiting craftspeople. An auction house, densely packed with furniture, art and relics collected from the city, sits at the base of the western door of the church of San Pedro. By night, the light of projected films escapes from a community cinema.
Standing over the Plaza in a new bell tower, a wandering statue of Santa Teresa surveys the daily life and changing seasons of the civic monastery.
Project co-authored by Toby Eccleston & Peter Brewser.
The Civic Monastery draws from the monastic typology to unearth a generous civic potential beneath the Plaza’s surface. A varied programme of public spaces, carefully entangled in the concrete skeleton of Moneo’s now ruined intervention, invite the city’s voices back into the Mercado Grande through the housing of a new cast of citizens, organisers and craftspeople.
The existing market is accommodated in the lowest level of the former car park through simple stalls, permanent pieces of furniture which can be occupied flexibly by a range of stallholders as a part of the weekly market and cleared from the centre of the Plaza to allow for larger gatherings. Four permanent stalls exist alongside these housing a butcher, baker, greengrocer & florist, which engage with three levels of the Plaza in different ways. A network of walkways and a stair tower provide access to the different levels, overseen by the office of the market administrator above. Cradled by the concrete skeleton, a guildhall overlooks the landscape and the Plaza, supporting community gatherings and mercantile negotiations in a main hall, with accompanying archival space, a community kitchen and a reading room.
Productive activity, in the form of a flour mill, laundry and jeweller’s workshop, inhabit the empty office buildings. The laundry spans the full height of the larger office block, with vertical hanging space for large linens and sheets to support Ávila’s hotels and hostels as well as local people tight on space within the dense courtyards of the city. The mill connects the Plaza to the productive landscapes to the south, served by a new gantry cutting through the existing structure and densely packed with a field of hanging bags of harvested wheat, drying in the sun throughout the year and gradually ground to flour. The jeweller’s workshop places value on circularity and repair, in common with other elements of the civic monastery. Its small workshop looks towards the rose window of the west front of the church of San Pedro.
A trench, providing pedestrian access into the site, borders the market to the east. On the other side, an auction house forms a gathering space for the community of Ávila to bring furniture, art and relics collected from the city for exchange and reuse, facilitated by a supporting workshop and monitored by a watchful clerk. The trench terminates in a new bell tower, housing the bells displaced from the tower of San Pedro and a relocated statue of Santa Teresa, which also contains a goods lift for bringing larger items into the auction house and market from the north. Caught between the tower and the north edge of the market is a cinema, with raked seating hanging from the existing car park structure and shielded by a loose terracotta roof. By night, the projectionist’s booth of the cinema can ascend to the surface of the Plaza and project onto the face of the tower.
The second, smaller office building is repurposed to house a dormitory for visiting craftspeople, artisans and performers to the monastery within individual cells looking to the south. Overseeing the Plaza from the hollowed bell tower of San Pedro is a writer’s study, caught within the belfry and accessed through a vertical archive of reference texts, drafted scripts and forgotten stories.