The modern city has been a place of intense and constant transformation over the last century. After the disentailment processes and the elimination of the city walls in the 19th century, the enlargements were imposed and the remodelling of the historic centres was completed, which provided the cities with new administrative buildings, laid out wide avenues and communication axes, and built parks and common leisure areas where the bourgeois city presented its status. But the modern city, above all, was filled with dwellings which, fed by a massive migration from the countryside to the city, forced legislative changes and new planning where the new urban expansion neighbourhoods took the urban limits where the newcomers settled (Fariña Tojo, 2000, p. 20-22).

Thus, in 20th century cities, the expansion of their neighbourhoods towards the periphery can be likened, following Tilden’s metaphor (2006, p. 30), to the growth rings shown by the cross-section of a tree, which tells us its history in the whimsical outline of these concentric lines. From the correct interpretation of each and every one of the points of these rings, with periods of drought that narrow the stripes or periods of heavy rainfall that show great growth, the configuration and evolution of our tree, that is to say, of our cities, is determined.

Dwellings are part of the industrial heritage ensembles, as stated in the Nizhny-Tagil Charter of 2003. In this same document, attention is drawn to the importance of cataloguing, registration, and research in order to tackle the processes of preservation of these historic assets. However, understanding that these are heritage sites that can be preserved as much or more, from a historical-sociological rather than an architectural point of view, than those that make up the classical heritage (nobility, church, and defensive constructions), requires a series of considerations that go beyond the traditional view of the uniqueness, quality or artistic or technical value of the elements.

When we approach these hundreds of residential buildings – the city of blocks (Díez Medina and Monclús, 2020) – replicated in many other cities and lacking intrinsic individual values, according to the conventional way of interpreting heritage, we must recognise that they present their contradictions, the result of the rapid transformation of the city, always under renovation and never completed, which offers a constant modification, through reforms and improvements of facilities, change of ownership and even of uses. It is the heritage lived during the second half of the 20th century by the generations that preceded us.

We must also bear in mind that, from a typological and constructive-material point of view, it represents a break with the traditional form of construction of collective housing that goes beyond architectural issues, going beyond the class-based conception of vertical distribution by classes, which in architectural aspects also had to be materialised and shown on the outside, based on the classical way of doing architecture, to a whole new dimension with regard to the way of designing and materialising architecture, bearing in mind new factors such as social equality, hygienic conditions for all dwellings regardless of social status, typological experimentation, standardisation and economy.

In addition, the relationship spaces are also present, those intentionally created between the dwelling and the street, either as a filter, or as an area for collective use, or so that the dwellings would have a green area to overlook, should also be recognised as social heritage, as they were transition spaces that graduated the contact between the dwellings and the street, giving privacy and spatial quality to the dwellings and their common areas. It was a way of dignifying social housing that speculative and regulatory reasons eliminated. It is therefore essential to know and preserve the remaining examples.

On the other hand, cooperativism, the new way of living, or at least of having access to collective home ownership, leads us to new forms of housing grouping and new city models. In the same way that historic centres or urban extensions are considered to be heritage-worthy as models of settlement representative of the society that created them, social housing, and within it, railway housing, is representative in our country of a not inconsiderable part of society and is also a reflection of a political model of making a city and, therefore, should be the object of heritage preservation (Cuéllar and Martínez-Corral, 2018).

This is not a new concept (Moya, Monjo and Díez, 2017): the Venice Charter (1964), the Amsterdam Declaration (1975), the Washington Charter (1875) or the Krakow Charter (2000), already introduce the value of modesty, of the arrabales, of the plurality of heritage, although the facts still do not endorse, many years later, the good intentions embodied in these documents. Ariño’s thesis (2001) argues that heritage is a social construction, which does not depend intrinsically on the object but on the values attributed to it. Therefore, it requires the intervention of society, and he argues that these values are random depending on the historical moment. Social housing, then, is an important element in the configuration of cities. The whole dissertation on the studies of cell, typology, façade, type of grouping and configuration of urban space present different aspects of a whole that is unequivocally part of the experience of every human being inhabiting the dwelling, the immediate surroundings and the city, which makes it part of a daily life and of a past, which thus represents the longed-for continuity with history, which is more interesting than other monuments and therefore represents a heritage with a greater right to be preserved, or at least recognised, than others.


ARIÑO, A., 2001. A invención do patrimonio cultural e a sociedade do risco. Grial: revista galega de cultura, no. 149, pp. 67-82.

CUÉLLAR, D. y MARTÍNEZ-CORRAL, A., 2018. Una casa para nuestros padres: una aproximación a las cooperativas de viviendas en España (1960-1985). IV Congresso Internacional sobre Património Industrial. Cidades e Património Industrial [en línea]. Aveiro, Portugal: APPI.

DÍEZ MEDINA, C. y MONCLÚS, F.J., 2020. Ciudad de bloques: reflexiones retrospectivas y prospectivas sobre los polígonos de vivienda «modernos». Madrid: Abada Editores.

FARIÑA TOJO, J., 2000. La protección del patrimonio urbano. Instrumentos normativos. Madrid: Editorial Akal.

MOYA, L., MONJO, J. y DÍEZ, A., 2017. La arquitectura ordinaria del siglo XX como patrimonio cultural: tres barrios de promoción oficial de Madrid. Eure. Revista Latinoamericana de Estudios Urbano Regionales, vol. 43, no. 130, pp. 269-294. TILDEN, F., 2006. La interpretación de nuestro patrimonio. Pamplona: Asociación para la Interpretación del Patrimonio.

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