CONSTRUCTION OF RENFE HOUSING. FILES AND PROJECTS

The public company RENFE (Spanish National Railway Network), created in 1941, was granted the status of “construction company” for the purpose of promoting subsidised housing by Decree of 26 April 1944 (BOE, no. 128, 7 May 1944). This enabled RENFE to be the owner of the files to be promoted before the National Housing Institute (INV) and allowed the company to only have to contribute a maximum of 10% of the budget or, alternatively, the plots of land it owned where the housing was to be built. This consideration also allowed it to qualify for interest-free advances and loans at the legal interest rate (around 3 %) and for a term of 20 years granted by the Institute.

The process began at the INV with the application to build on a specific plot of land, accrediting ownership, and the state of encumbrances, if any, and justifying the suitability of the land, normally due to its location near a station or railway enclave. Once the authorisation to build and the transfer of the land had been obtained, a preliminary project and a brief report were presented, detailing the number of occupants, valuation of the land, construction period and budget, as well as the contributions and benefits requested.

Once the initial approval was obtained, the basic and execution projects were submitted to the same body for supervision and approval, in accordance with the regulations in force – practically non-existent – at the time, usually drawn up by the company’s architects. This issue would stamp a characteristic stamp on the housing promoted by RENFE: the repetition of projects, of construction solutions and, therefore, of the urban image.

Once the INV had given its approval to the projects and after an auction had been held to award the works, the works could begin without requiring a municipal building permit, but they could be reviewed by the municipal technicians, who had to notify the INV of all the situations that arose during the execution of the works. The works ended with the provisional and definitive receptions signed by all the agents involved: the person in charge of the INV, the person in charge of RENFE, the architect-director of the works and the person in charge of the construction company.

The dossier was finalised with the partial or total settlement of the works. This settlement contained a report that included a chronologically ordered list of the most relevant events that took place both in the process of processing the file and in the construction, plans, a budget, and an economic study. As the dwellings were intended to be rented, it also included a table of annual and monthly rents depending on the type and size of the dwelling, as well as the minimum wage necessary to pay for it. It also provided a material execution price and a final price per square metre of housing. Regarding the budgets, it included details of the different types of budgets that were handled: in essence, the material execution budget (PEM), which included the price of materials and labour; the contract budget, which added overheads and industrial profit; the award budget and the total protected budget, which included the project fees, project management fees, optional rights, and the amount of the land, from the reduction offered by the successful bidder. Finally, it included a detail of the financing. Once all the formalities had been completed, the dwellings were provisionally classified as subsidised housing and subsequently definitively classified (Cuéllar y Martínez-Corral 2018).

Illustration 1. Sequence of the RENFE housing project and dossier

Source: Documentation of several files and projects in the Fomento Archive (AMF) for the construction of RENFE subsidised housing started in the 1940s: El Escorial (AMF, M-5475-VP), Palencia (AMF, P-1642-VP), Algeciras (AMF, CA-1882-VP) and Almería (AMF, AM-3158-VP).

As regards the standardisation of the contents of technical projects, which consisted of a descriptive and construction report, plans, general and specific specifications, and a budget, at national level the Technical Ordinances and Construction Standards for “low-income housing” approved by Ministerial Order of 12 July 1955 were the first point of reference. It is important to explain beforehand that the aforementioned regulations established a distinction between two types of dwellings, since the requirements varied from one type to the other: limited income dwellings in the first group and limited income dwellings in the second group. The fundamental difference was that the first group did not require direct financial assistance from the State for the construction of the first group, while the second group did. The second group was further subdivided into three categories according to their surface area and budget per square metre (Martínez-Corral y Cuéllar 2020). For the case under study, all dwellings fall into the second group and generally into the second category within this group. This is important because for the dwellings in the first group there were no limitations or minimum project content, while for those in the second group there is a minimum project content; details of the urbanisation projects are required in accordance with the existing planning, as well as the suitability of the land and its valuation.

Regarding the composition and programme of the dwellings in this second group, a minimum of three bedrooms, kitchen-dining room and toilet with independent entrance was required. This suggests that the concept of minimum housing in Spain was interpreted as an aggregation of rooms, at the antipodes of all the experimentation of the Republican period or European experiences (López Padilla 2012), and basically designed for large families. As a relevant issue, a percentage of “growing dwellings” was allowed, i.e., those with a single bedroom (which necessarily had to include a double bed and a cot) as long as the project was accompanied by the total development, the final objective, of these dwellings.

Maximum and minimum clear heights were proposed, as well as the distance between blocks and the height of these and, above all, emphasis was placed on the correct ventilation of the dwellings, establishing minimum dimensions of rooms, openings, and ventilation courtyards. With the same intention of favouring good ventilation in as many rooms as possible, the obligation of the double bay block is established in newly created nuclei, as well as the preferential selection of south and east orientations.

Apart from typological issues, these regulations also established some limitations on the use of materials, their layout, and the installations to be dealt with in future entries. These regulations were extended in some aspects in the Order of 22 February 1968, but in general, they are rather ambiguous regulatory compendiums and therefore difficult to apply. Subsequently, the “Technical Standards for the Design and Quality of Social Housing”, drawn up by the Directorate General for Architecture and Building Technology, were approved in the Order of 24 November 1976 and revised by the Order of 17 May 1977, repealing all regulations of equal or lower rank relating to the design of social housing and which represent the end of the regulatory framework for the application of social housing promoted by RENFE during the period under study.

CUÉLLAR, D. y MARTÍNEZ-CORRAL, A., 2018. Las soluciones constructivas de la vivienda social ferroviaria en la segunda mitad del siglo XX: un patrimonio a estudio. Incuna 2018: resilencia, innovación y sostenibilidad. Gijón: s.n.,

LÓPEZ PADILLA E., 2012. La arquitectura moderna como experimento: la Weissenhofsiedlung y la relación entre la técnica y la forma. Dearq. Revista de Arquitectura, no. 10, pp. 102-117.

MARTÍNEZ-CORRAL, A. y CUÉLLAR, D., 2020. Las soluciones constructivas en la vivienda durante el franquismo: el caso de la vivienda ferroviaria. Informes de la Construcción, vol. Vol. 72, 558, e341, abril-junio 2020.


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