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The wash house

THE WASH HOUSE 
by Nathan Romero Muelas

In a village overlooking the sea, the architect, as a child, passed the wash house on his way to school.

The building was situated on a south-facing hillside. Lemon and orange trees grew on the terrace above and large almond trees below.

The branches of the almond trees stretched through the arches. Inside, the arches and branches cast around their shadows, and the running water reflected the light and greenery, thus filling the roof with colour and vibration. The building was made up of plastered, whitewashed stone. The concrete wash spaces, shining due to the wear of clothes and soap looked like polished stone.

The system of canals had not changed since the Arabs. By the road sides, the water ran convivially across the orchards, but inside the wash room, the canal became larger and the water calmer. The atmosphere and spirit changed. Coming in from the sun, you had to adjust your eyes to see. The scent of jasmine and orange flower hung on to the room, and all sounds were transformed and created a little echo, making you instinctively lower your voice. Imagine also summer moon nights where lovers would sit on the bench under the arches.

In the time before the washing machine, this had naturally been a place for social meetings and gatherings. At a time, there had been more than fifty people talking, whispering and singing. Women particularly, and children. Some buildings demonstrate their ability to add truth and dignity to human activity. It then seems as though architecture is capable of conquering the depth of life. This also applies to certain churches and markets. The character of agora had thus survived its disappeared original function.

The wash house was not a place you went to see. It was a thoroughfare whose influence gained ground little by little. In a church, we expect to find recollection and even reverence. In a wash house, we discovered it as a revelation, and twenty years later, we wonder how it was possible. It is a slow learning process.

The framework of the landscape, the composition of different elements in chords ... the slow and elastic rhythm of the arches combined with the hypnotic repetition of the wash spaces. The modern cadence of the buttresses. The proportions were generous; the partition to the north was around five metres high. It was a place you passed; but it was also possible to hang out with your friends, some sitting around the wash spaces and others under the arches.


For many years, I thought that I might be idealising a building connected to my childhood and early youth in a Mediterranean village. But the photography sent by a family member now confirms the memory. Just the right amount of architecture. The photography revives the place, particularly because of all the things that are not told. what the over-exposure of light and shadow hides.

(Today, the wash house does not exist. Also the entire system of canals has disappeared because someone decided that it was not sustainable enough. And with the water, the frogs, fish, grass and freshness of the entire garden disappeared. Instead, black rubber tubes with holes meanly let the water run out. But that is a different story.)


Something l had, however, forgotten. In the background of the image, just before you leave the wash house, the entire structure is broken to adapt to the terrain. The last arch breaks the rhythm to follow the road. Naturalness and good form in a work of architecture that is not corseted by the idea or concept. Often, we talk about the modesty of the vernacular. I do not believe there was anything modest about the wash house. It had the dignity that follows with being unpretentious, and the respect for and understanding of place.

When it came down to it, you felt really good there.






El lavadero. Altea.

This text was awarded the 1. prize Henning Larsen Fond 2012 and is published by Arkitektens Forlag