The Model prison in Barcelona was a penal institution where those who participated in revolts and other such activities during the 20th century were imprisoned for demanding social improvements, greater equality and reforms in the political, social and economic structures of the city and the country. As many as 24 documented executions by garrotte were carried out here between 1939 and 1977.
Barcelona is a city where social movements and resistance to various inequalities have had, and continue to have, an important presence that is recognised around the world. It is not surprising, then, that allocating part of the old Model prison building for this purpose has been a long-standing demand of social organisations and groups linked to the knowledge of history, transmission of popular memory and the defence of civil rights, as well as a demand of professionals in various branches of knowledge linked to the academic world of universities.
There are some significant examples of turning a jail, detention or confinement centre into an active space for the dissemination of knowledge in Europe, America and Africa. The project to turn part of the old Model prison into an interpretation centre on repression and social movements continues this trend. Temporary exhibitions, seminars, courses and talks will be programmed there, research will be carried out, and artistic expressions, concerts, theatre and cinematographic activity in line with the centre’s general objectives will be offered and made available to the district and the city, with specific programmes related to local cultural interests, the activity of memorial organisations and their documentary legacy. The workshop in the memorial space (where the women’s prison used to be) can act as a permanent link between local residents and the city through a programme of performing arts, exhibitions and cinema that includes family events.
The name of this facility will be La Model Espai Memorial (Memorial Space), as requested by most of the memorial organisations that signed the manifesto “In the name of everyone, La Model is La Model” on 19 June 2017.
If the Model prison was used to ruin whole lives on an industrial scale, La Model Espai Memorial is designed to generate knowledge and cultural dissemination at an equally industrial scale.
When thinking about future uses, the heritage dimension of its architecture needs to be taken into account. The panoptic structure of the building, designed by Salvador Viñals and Josep Domènech Estapà in line with Bentham’s criteria, means the Model is a very unique building of great heritage interest. In fact, the 2000 Special Plan for Protecting Architectural Heritage awarded this building with level C protection. Protecting heritage, however, is not just a question of preserving it but also of valuing it. That means the transformation of the Model prison must preserve its heritage value and highlight the building’s unique nature, striking a clear balance between the programme of uses and maintaining the building’s characteristics because, apart from its value in terms of cultural and artistic heritage, the Model’s physical organisation both recounts and was determined by a historical period of large civil facilities in the city, a newly created city with a decidedly metropolitan vocation.