The action for the protection of industrial heritage in Spain started in the early 1980s. The first step was taken with the establishment of the Association of the National Museum of Science and Technology and industrial archaeology of Catalonia in 1979. That was followed by the organisation of the first meeting for the protection and revaluation of industrial heritage (Jornadas sobre la protección y revalorización del patrimonio industrial), which took place in 1982 at Bilbao. Its objective was to introduce studies of industrial archaeology in Spain and initiate the process of establishing the Science and Technology Museums of the Basque Country and Terrassa (Biel Ibáñez and Cueto Alonso, 2011, 11-13). In the years that followed, an increasing number of meetings and congresses were organised across Spain with a relevant scope (Abad, 2016, 215).
In the first stages towards the protection of the Spanish industrial heritage, significant contributions were made by multidisciplinary groups of volunteers. Apart from the establishment of the Spanish Association of industrial heritage and Public Works (Asociación Española de Patrimonio Industrial y Obra Publica) in 1986, which had a national scope yet a very brief life span, the last decades of the 20th century saw the creation of various associations focused on regional industrial heritage. The most important of those were the Basque Association of Industrial Heritage (AVPIOP) founded in 1989 and the Association Industry, Culture and Nature (INCUNA) founded in 1997 in Asturias (Biel Ibáñez and Cueto Alonso, 2011, 13).
An important point, which differentiates Spain from the other countries under investigation is that from the outset, the protection and conservation of its industrial heritage was largely determined by the regional organisation of the country. It is notable that the vast majority of the activities for the defence, inventory, conservation and conversion of the vestiges of industry were confined within the limits of the autonomous regions. As a result, the approach, development and current state of industrial heritage in Spain presents a great differentiation from one autonomous region to the other.
Catalonia and the Basque country were the pioneers in the process of investigation, diffusion and defence of industrial heritage. The central State appeared indifferent to the safeguarding of the legacy of industrialisation, throughout the 20th century. In terms of legislation, the Heritage Law 16/1985 as well as the first generation of the regional laws did not explicitly cite industrial heritage. Nevertheless, this first general heritage legal framework contributed to the listings of a small number of industries on a national and regional level.
With very limited exceptions (Heritage Laws of Castilla –La Mancha in 1990 and Catalonia in 1993), industry would not be recognised as part of the regional cultural heritage legal framework until the turn of the 21st century. In the late 1990s and early 2000s a second generation of regional laws was created, referring explicitly to industrial heritage (Heritage laws of Cantabria and Baleares in 1998, Asturias in 2001 and Andalucía in 2007). The posed laws defined industrial heritage and discussed its categorisation, illustrating a shift in the appreciation of this heritage typology from the public administration (Abad, 2016, 12,215).
The first decade of the new millennium was a period of prosperity for the handling of the Spanish industrial heritage. New advocative structures were created and considerable advances were made on a theoretical, strategic and legislative level. At the same time, the reuse practice proliferated at a rapid way, favoured by the blooming economy and the social awareness of this new heritage group’s values. It is worth highlighting two developments of that period which diverged from the past regional-centred practice. Firstly, the establishment of TICCIH Spain in 2002, an NGO which acts as an advocate of industrial heritage on a national scale. Secondly, the activation of the State for the formulation a national planning framework for the historic industrial stock of the country.
In 2001 the Commission of the Spanish Cultural heritage Institute (IPCE) drew “The National Plan for Industrial Heritage”. Its objective was to promote knowledge, protection, conservation and reuse of the old industrial spaces based on a coordinated strategy between the State, the Autonomous Regions and the Municipalities, with the participation of citizen associations and private agents. The plan was revised in 2011(Ministerio de Educación Cultura y Deporte, n.d.) (Biel Ibáñez and Cueto Alonso, 2011, 14).
With respect to the employment of industrial heritage reuse practice, there are noteworthy asymmetries within the different regions of Spain. These were essentially imposed both by the means and attitude of the regional administration towards heritage and from the nature of industry in each region. In regard with the later point, it has been noted that facilities with higher complexity and bigger size eg. the mining and ironworks landscapes, common in Asturias and the Basque country, rarely became subject of transformation. In contrast, structures with more contained aspects such as the textile mills of Catalonia, were easier to convert to other uses.
In general, the transformation of the industrial stock starts in the late 1980s from Spain’s industrial regions. It is worth highlighting that the high architectural value of many of the factories in regions like Catalonia, built in the Art Nouveau style, facilitated profoundly their conservation and reuse. The first uses to be housed in the former temples of production were cultural and educational ones. An important example of these very first steps was the foundation of mNACTEC.
In the 1990s, a number of former industrial areas become the field of large scale urban planning projects. Two of the most renowned cases are the creation of the Olympic Village in the industrial district PobleNou of Barcelona and the transformation of the city centre of Bilbao (Llordès and Pont, 2014, 364-369). Even though both projects have been widely celebrated as model-cases for urban revitalisation, they can only serve as an antipodal reference in terms of industrial heritage preservation. In the same period, more modest approaches are developed in other Spanish regions that prioritised heritage conservation over speculation.
The transformation of the vestiges of industry culminates in first decade of the 21st century. Industries are converted in every possible use (housing, education, cultural spaces established by the public of private sector, museums and interpretation centres/visitors attractions, service sector activities, restaurants et al) Many of the projects developed are signed by starchitects. Moreover, more stakeholders enter the field of industrial heritage reuse, introducing new uses to the obsolete structures (residential ones by commercial developers and administration space by municipal services.) Significant projects of urban scale which mark a distinct departure from past destructive practices are the modification of the metropolitan plan in Barcelona’s 22@ district, the Terrassa Plan for municipal urban Planning et al.
The same period sees the recognition of the Spanish industrial heritage as a cultural asset of global character. In 2007 the hanging Bridge of Bilbao enters UNESCO’s World Heritage List to be followed by the Mining park of Almadén entry, five years later. The turn of the century sees also an important shift in the public’s appreciation on industrial heritage.
The recent recession has put a halt in the marching conversion activity of industrial heritage, presenting at the same time some positive effects, too. These include the interception of the rising gentrification of former industrial districts and the reconsideration of past intervention approaches.
To sum up, after c. 40 years, historic industries have become today an intrinsic part of the Spanish cultural heritage. As analysed above, a lot of progress has been made on a theoretical, legislative and practical level. Spain has formed a rich portfolio of reused cases including a number of strong reference-projects of a landscape scale. Nevertheless, some regions of the country are still behind in terms of industrial heritage protection and reuse. The challenge appears to be to bring up to speed the later regions while getting disentangled from the predicaments of the introvert regionalism.


  1. AADIPA Agrupació d'Arquitectes per a la Defensa i la Intervenció en el Patrimoni Arquitectònic. XXI Curset sobre la intervencio en el patrimonio arquitectonic. El patrimonio industrial: viejas estructuras, nuevas actuaciones, 1998 Barcelona.
  2. Abad, C. J. P. 2016. El patrimonio industrial en España: Paisajes, lugares y elementos singulares, Akal.
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  4. Llordès, T. & Pont, F. 2014. Espais recobrats. Els nous usos del patrimoni industrial català, Terrassa, mNACTEC.
  5. Ministerio de Educación Cultura y Deporte. n.d. Plan Nacional del Patrimonio Industrial [Online]. Available: [Accessed 12-03-2018].