Cultural Heritage: Industry, History and Future

Domènec Ferran Gomez (Museum of Terrassa Director) interview. 5 of February, 2020

This interview took place at the 5th of February, 2020 in the Casa Sagrera building in Terrassa.

1-  Tell us about yourself. Who is Domènec Ferran Gómez?

It’s me, I’m here. I’m the director of the Museum of Terrassa. The museum includes five sections: the churches of Sant Pere/Seu d’Ègara, the Vallparadís Castle, the Casa Alegre de Sagrera, the cloister of the Monastery of Sant Francesc, and the Torre del Palau. I have a degree in Art History. I took a master course in Museology, and dedicated myself to these museum-related and patrimonial studies for all these years. I also am responsible for the organization of all the catalogued buildings of the city, whether they’d be reformed or not, etc., between other things.

2- Let’s go straight to the point. Industrial Heritage in XXIst century. Why?

Terrassa is one the the cities in our country that identifies itself the most with the industrial heritage. This heritage dates back to the XIXth century (mainly during the end of XIXth and beginning of XXth century). That embraced the fact that it experienced a demographic increase of 209.000 inhabitants (from 11.000 till 220.000 inhabitants that currently live in the city). The engine of all this transformation was the wool textile industry, and to a lesser extend the cotton one. This is the legacy our grandparents and great-grandparents gave us, most of them connected to factories.

What are the remains of all this textile-factory world? Factories facilities ruins and derelict working class people houses as well as a specific urbanistic layout. This is a legacy difficult to leave out. The future projections of all these spaces rest to be seen, not to say that, future generations will probably have to exploit them somehow and find new refurbishment strategies in order to find new uses and purposes.

3- We know of the central of mMNATEC plays in the preservations of catalan industrial heritage. Which one are its main lines of action?

Well, as I said I’m not the director of the mNACTEC, but I know a bit about how things are surrounding the theme. [First of all, just as how other countries had done it, three action routes were established: first there was the dissemination part, then the foundation of the Industrial Heritage Inventory of Catalonia (IPIC), and then the selection of the best features of the inventory to guarantee them the acknowledgement and legal protection that they needed. On the other hand,] the rebirth of the Aymerich, Amat i Jover Factory as a national museum meant the consolidation of Terrassa as the capital of Catalonia’s industrial heritage. This old textile center of around 12,000 square meters is nowadays considered as an authentic architectural treasure. As someone used to say, the building is the most imposing contemporary figure of the city. This idea of the capitality of Terrassa in relation to the catalan industrial heritage also implied more value to the city’s local heritage. The network of all the science and technology museums that the mNACTEC stands for clearly shows the immense diversity of the catalan heritage, as it reflects the whole variety of industrial issues: the watermill industry, the textile industry, the electric industry, the flour milling industry, etc.: in most cases not just being examples of fossil industry but also of currently eminent industries that occupy these spaces or that are related.

4- Which are the most important, idiosyncratic and distinguishing aspects of this Catalonian Industrial Heritage?

The industrial heritage  can usually be integrated in a society in the sense of giving inhabitants new environments to let them have fun, let them be participant of their urbanistic distribution like for example in our city, in Sabadell, Hospitalet de Llobregat or even in Barcelona, to a lesser extent. Urban growth has happened in a very distinctive way in comparison with other urban areas around Europe: The root of these bustling future industrial cities was set up in the Medieval cities.  As years came by, these Medieval cities embraced growing factories, textile warehouses and other type of cities structures.  This so tight relationship between the nucleus of urban population and the industrial heritage would be one of the main characteristics of the Catalonian Industrial Inheritance as Terrassa can show.

Wheat mills, and other isolated mountain spaces, river spaces like the ones we find in Llobregat and in Ter rivers, the industrial colonies, are similar spaces to the ones found in other European countries such as England, Germany and Italy.

5.- In your opinion, what sites other than the mNACTEC could be of biggest interest for the city’s industrial heritage? Why?

As I’ve already mentioned, we must take into account the huge diversity that we find here in the city—first there are the factories and the steam engine centers; and then there’s all the places for, let’s say, socializing: schools, service centers, casinos, Ateneus…; the department stores, singular spaces that were idiosyncratic in Terrassa—they represented the visual part of what was done in the factories, as the manufactured products were exhibited and sold there—; we have the workers houses too, intertwined with other building and structures fo the city; and, of course, the houses of the factories owners, prominently the Casa Alegre de Sagrera, where you can nowadays still feel the bourgueois way of life in the industrial times. Finally there are architectural singularities, the Industrial School would be a good example. A very important industrial building, designed by Lluís Muncunill as well. It wss the place  where the factory technicians and workers studied. Ot the Casa Bauman and the Masia Freixa, where the industrial heritage values reunited with more artistic and architectural ones.

6- Bearing in mind your leading position and huge knowledge about the Museum of Terrassa, which are the most important actions taken in Terrassa as regards this preservation and educational task of the Industrial Heritage?

We started up in a very difficult historical period, the 70’s, where industrial heritage sites were not valuable at all. There was a natural tendency towards wiping out all the machineries, components and facilities that reached the end of its usefulness life. Nonetheless there was a very significant turning point towards the end of the 70’s when the society, taken as a whole, started to value the art and cultural heritage as a means of spreading out the history of Terrassa.  Moreover, it was a period when lots of projects were coming about, for example the La Naspa project, an industrial factory restructured in an exhibition room, also the MNACTEC. Little by little these reconversions were branching out into housing (most of them in the center of the town), offices and  warehouses. We progressively found new uses to this industrial heritage. All this happened during the 80’s, even though we still have a long way to way, especially with Vapor Ros and Vapor Gran. This last one was aimed at rekindling a second  sort of“downtown”, but it finally didn’t come off from the social and commercial point of view. The positive aspect is that all the flats were sold but it is currently a sort of a dead area.

7– In an interview in 2015, you said: “There is a museological project still to be done, nor competed due to lack of financiation. It would include the rehabilitation of the Fontanals pis and two houses near by Casa Alegre, all of them Major House properties, to convert this space in a XIX and XX centuries art Museum. It is a topic that a lot of artits are demanding because they would like their works to be exposed but sadly we have to have them stored.” Has this situation been changed nowadays? Are there any new projects regarding the topic?

You won’t believe me, but right now I was in Mayor House discussing it with the Mayor. I don’t know if you have any weird connection with somebody orme es you just spied on me (laughs!)… Let’s see… It is still a standing project. I would say this local goverment wants to move it ahead. We are trying to get it done, to give to Terrassa a new contemporary art center, a space we don’t have in the city. We have a lot of stuff, a lot of artworks, mainly canvases, but too sculptures, engravings,… we are right now determined to move on with it.

8 – What position do you have as for the Vapor Ros? What opinion does the Museum of Terrassa have about it? What factors should be born in mind as regards giving the best possible response and holding in mind different perspectives (cultural, economic, social..)?

https://terrassadigital.cat/loposicio-no-dona-suport-al-canvi-urbanistic-del-vapor-ros-perque-nexlou-la-inversio-privada/

Firstly, we must take into consideration that Vapor Ros is a huge facility with lots of square meters. It has only been partially exploited (some businesses, a refurbishing company and a gym… nothing else). What we should really do is to set up a more global project, occupy it and give it wide-ranging needs so that people would probably feel it theirs (let’s say through workshops or even offering housing). We must bring it out as a public space. Officially what we have traditionally done many times is to turn this kind of buildings into a state-run and a private space by means of a real-state. So supposedly it’s a win-win solution because we can sustain the old building from the economic point of view and at the same time they can demolish part of the old factory and build new flats, houses.. But the reality is that this has never happened. I mean, they have built new flats but forgotten about the old factories. Even though, we have an advantage with Vapor Ros because there is a group of people that want to be in charge of this topic. We should democratize this public space and seek to create an open space allowing thought and exchange of ideas and not turn it into a process that stems from speculation and real estate philosophy. Other social collective such as artistic, craftsmen, social professionals.. should participate showing a hight respect towards old buildings cataloguing. For example, Ros family living space, corridors and other elements that enable new uses for the city and its inhabitants. Indeed, we need space for popular culture, artistic creation and other needs that are difficult to be invested in.

9- Let’s go back to mNATEC again. Next March will be visiting it with our european mates and will make a guided visit. How could explain them its importance, regarding both its value as an industrial heritage building as well as a museum?

First of all, I will focus on the history of the Vapor in itself. So, visiting the coal bunker, the steam engine, going through all the textile processes, from the wool to the final product… Later, if there is time, I would explain something about the energy hall, cars exhibition, engines… I would say the main, most impressive thing of the building is to follow all this textile process, the dimensions of the engines and the spaces, its architectural value… pay attention to, for example, how Muncunill could imagine so a neat incoming light to the building. I think that if you do that, your mates will get satisfied. After it, you could visit the temporary exhibitions, always interesting and, of course, go up to lookout point and the terraces! It is from there where you get the whole dimension of it all!

10- One of our main project objectives is to find out and value part of this industrial heritage. This has to do with investigating about social aspects, development and sustainability (Vapor Ros would be an example).

Furthermore, in the following two years, we are going to bring out a new project: Erasmus + together with high schools from Germany, Poland and Italy and the main topic we are going to deal with is gonna be: city sustainability. Besides this, we are aware that a new project in Terrassa called “Green Revolution” has been implemented. (https://www.terrassa.cat/larevolucioverda)

Even though our town hall has not explicitly expressed anything about the fact that our industrial heritage can or must be a key element in all these changes towards a more sustainable society, if there was a chance to do so, how would we deal with these changes?

It is a very difficult question!!, let’s see: the opposite of sustainability is synonym with textile industry, pollution, dirtiness, long working hours, children exploitation, underpaid wages… Turning all these concepts into a sustainable concept is difficult. What is really feasible is to transform energy, contracts and organization in sustainability and break the hindrance of negative aspects of our former industries. In this city, immigrants from several parts from Spain used to come here to work twelve hours, the textile cities were bustling with activity but they were a grey element in the people’s imaginary. Nowadays there are strict sustainable regulations not only from the materialistic or energetic point of view but from other more social aspects (well-balanced wages, between women-men), giving these projects a more cooperative patina. The aim is to take the speculation or real estate imbrication off them. Let’s give these spaces a more sustainable aspect from the environmental/social point of view.

11- Let’s finish as we started. How do you do to get young people (not just from Terrassa but european in general) interested in Industrial Heritage?

I would not center on just industrial heritage, but on heritage in itself. I think the first step is to aim to know it and value it. As I was young, at my parents’ home there were old pictures and other objects that, somehow, shape or make up the familiar story. I was no interested in all this stuff at the moment. Firstly, because I did not know it. Secondly, because to get to understand this kind of things you need of a certain distance. It is then, as I said, very important to know it, to recognize it, to explain it, to understand it… and it is so how, later, as you have already made it yours, you start to really appreciate it and it is then we you really gets to fully understand it. I regret to have got rid of much of that old stuff. I am a historian, I have worked with art, I know now we could have done it differently… To recover the memory, to recover our heritage, it starts recovering your everyday stuff, your family stuff. To pay attention to things, simply. To get interested in what surrounds us. If we dig deep into it, if we study, for example, the story of this or that factory, who worked there, what they made exactly, etc. this same interest makes we get to appreciate it and that we pass this esteem and this value to others.

Thank you very much to Xavi, Ariadna, Marta, Manuel & Kader.

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