World Design Spotlight: Bombas Gens Centre d’Art
18 Feb 2022 /

World Design Spotlight: Bombas Gens Centre d’Art

To renovate an abandoned factory and convert it into an expression of industrial heritage for artistic, social and cultural use. That is what the Fundació Per Amor a l’Art did with some impressive 1930 factory buildings that had been closed for decades: transform them into Bombas Gens Art Centre. 

As an inclusive space dedicated to culture, this building in Valencia has found its way onto the international map of most envied places.

The aim of its developers when they inaugurated it in 2017 was very clear: to establish an art centre that was open to everybody, with free entry and without public subsidies; with a dining room for children at risk of social exclusion and a centre for coordination of research into Wilson’s disease, a condition to which the promotors are, for family reasons, especially sensitive.

A total of 6000 square metres (2600 for exhibitions alone) distributed between culture, altruism and science, stirred by the deep passion of its owners for art and their conviction that art improves us as a society.

The works on show belong to the collection of the Fundació Per Amor a l’Art, the entity led by entrepreneurs Susana Lloret and José Luis Soler that provided all the financial backing for the investment made in Bombas Gens. More than nine million euros were allocated merely to renovating the building. 

The history

The history of the building goes back to 1930, when the architect Cayetano Borso di Carminati designed it for a businessman, Carlos Gens, to house the new headquarters of his successful hydraulic pump factory, taking a leap towards modernity from the company’s previous premises. 

The space, with undisputed historical value, is one of the few examples of industrial architecture still standing. The building and the art deco style of its façades make this place a unique enclave to host these new uses that respond to today’s needs.

The building also suffered from the hardships of the Civil War since it was confiscated by the republicans to manufacture bombs, owing to which it became a clear target for attack by Franco’s band. This is the reason for the presence of an air raid shelter, conserved during all this time, and which can also be visited. The building was in general greatly deteriorated after being abandoned for many years, even suffering a fire after closing its doors definitively in 1991. 

The building also suffered from the hardships of the Civil War since it was confiscated by the republicans to manufacture bombs, owing to which it became a clear target for attack by Franco’s band. This is the reason for the presence of an air raid shelter, conserved during all this time, and which can also be visited.

The intervention

Three professionals led the architectural interventions in the factory complex for its recovery to what it is today: after the factory buildings had been consolidated by Eduardo de Miguel, Ramón Esteve assumed the development and expansion of the project and the architect Annabelle Selldorf took care of the museum aspect.

The façade offers direct access to the art centre. The restaurant (managed by Michelin star chef Ricard Camarena) is set to the right and the offices to the left, with a more discreet presentation compared to the entrance. 

The project for the renovation of Bombas Gens also included the design, by Esteve, of the factory yard; a space that contains a garden planned by landscape gardener Gustavo Marina and the site-specific sculpture of Cristina Iglesias. 

The yard is the setting for the fifteenth century wine cellar and the Civil War air raid shelter. All these spaces are linked by green areas that allow the visitor to appreciate the scale of the complex and discover each one of its corners. 

Three professionals led the architectural interventions in the factory complex for its recovery to what it is today: after the factory buildings had been consolidated by Eduardo de Miguel, Ramón Esteve assumed the development and expansion of the project and the architect Annabelle Selldorf took care of the museum aspect.

The architect Ramón Esteve explains the challenge represented by the intervention. “The most complicated task was to design a space that represented a foundation with such a strong identity as that of the Fundació per Amor a l’Art, and to try to convert those values into stone, generating in turn a suitable setting for the day-to-day performance of its functions, activities and aims.” 

For her part, the architect Annabelle Selldorf, responsible for the museum design, points out that the developers of the complex, well aware of the consideration required by the space, “were not seeking a designer who would simply give the building a radiant and innovative feeling, but somebody who would embrace the historic character and give it a new aim and a new strength. They could see how the value of art and architecture could contribute to creating a real sense of place that would enhance the Marxalenes neighbourhood, as well as Valencia and Spain,” she explained in the publication issued by the institution to commemorate its first anniversary.

When I am presented with the opportunity to adapt industrial or historic buildings for a new use, my focus is to reach a deep understanding of the essential qualities and the singularity of the building. Based on this understanding and on the context of a new aim, it is possible to determine which aspects to restore, repair or renovate and where an intervention is necessary,” explained the architect. 

“I believe that architecture is brought to life, and completed, by those who use it, and with Bombas Gens it has been very rewarding to see the centre full of people enjoying the art and the wonderful programmes presented. It has served as a catalyst for revitalisation and commitment just as we hoped for during the planning stage, but it has exceeded our expectations,” pointed out Selldorf. 

The collection 

The Bombas Gens art centre also has a deluxe advisor where the acquisition of works is concerned: Vicent Todolí, ex-director of the Tate Modern, who has advised Lloret and Soler over many years, leading to the formation of a splendid collection of pieces which includes now classic photographers of the twentieth century, such as Walker Evans and Garry Winogrand, as well as recent photographers, also taking in pieces by the painters Anna-Eva Bergman, Esteban Vicente and Juan Uslé and sculptors Juan Muñoz and Cristina Iglesias. 

The artistic collection has some very special guidelines that are worth knowing: it is publicly accessible, its works are not on the market, they are not subject to speculation, and exorbitant prices are not paid. 

The art centre aspires to attract a broad public, as Susana Lloret, the visible face of this institution, has explained many times: “the aim is for equality of opportunities to be a little more real.”

Visual identity and signage

The studio Gallén+Ibáñez, founded by Carmina Ibáñez and Marisa Gallén, the latter a winner of a National Design Award in 2019, is behind the graphic identity of Bombas Gens.

The work, with a logo based on an ornamental art deco motif representing a fountain lifted from the grille of the building, meets three necessary requirements: to be contemporary, recognisable and formally synthetic. This design has been recognised with various specialist awards: Laus, Clap, German Design Awards and La Lluna. 

The work, with a logo based on an ornamental art deco motif representing a fountain lifted from the grille of the building, meets three necessary requirements: to be contemporary, recognisable and formally synthetic. This design has been recognised with various specialist awards: Laus, Clap, German Design Awards and La Lluna. 

The figures

In short, this is a very ambitious project which has given life to an abandoned building and with an international projection that has received the unequivocal support of the public. 

The figures are clear: since it opened, Bombas Gens has hosted 19 exhibitions and welcomed almost thirty thousand attendees to the 473 activities that have been held in relationship with the collections (workshops, guided tours) which have benefitted from a high degree of social participation. 

Since it opened its doors, almost two hundred thousand people have passed through what was, just a few years ago, an imposing abandoned factory. 

As the architect Rafael Moneo says, “the life of a building is a complete race through time.” Bombas Gens today is a place with a design and an intention that make Valencia a better city. 

Photographs: Alfonso Calza and Bombas Gens Centre d’Art.