From the 1940s onwards, the housing problem took on crisis proportions and threatened to affect the stability of the Franco regime. In fact, one of Franco’s first legislative measures was precisely the new housing legislation. Specifically, the Law of 19 April 1939 had two clear objectives: first, protective measures to encourage the construction of subsidised housing; and second, the creation of a regulatory department such as the National Housing Institute (INV). 

On technical matters, the INV was the body in charge of issuing building ordinances and standards, proposing housing types, supervising and approving projects and works, and validating specifications and budgets.

An analysis of the technical regulations in force up to the 1960s, basically the period when housing construction by RENFE was predominant, allows us to understand the great homogeneity of the projects and the construction solutions applied. Regulatory rigidity, the objective of minimum cost with the erroneous criterion of considering that the smaller the dwelling, the greater the savings (De La Hoz, 1962), the idea of housing that the Regime sought to impose, at the antipodes of all the design and construction evolution of the Republican period or the solutions of other European countries, and material scarcity were the key aspects that conditioned the materiality of the period and which was also reflected in the installations and finishes (Cuéllar & Martínez-Corral, 2018a). All this changes progressively from the 1960s onwards as a result of a completely different social, economic and regulatory context.

In this sense, following this line of constructive entries, in the RENFE dwellings, the most commonly used external cladding was rendering and plastering based on lime or cement mortar. The use of traditional mortar was permitted, and the use of fatty lime, hydraulic lime mortar and Portland-type cement mortar in different doses were prescribed. Interior cladding was based on garnish and plaster. The finish was based on lime paint on the exterior with stone rendering on skirting boards and smooth tempera on ceilings and interior vertical surfaces. For the wet rooms, ceramic tiling was carried out either, at first, strictly in the areas where it was essential, and then in a continuous manner at half height, around 1.48 m, or, in the cooperative projects, at full height. 

In the RENFE projects, the ceramic tiles used were white tiles measuring 15×15 or 20×20 cm from Castellón, 2nd category, laid with a continuous joint and with a blunt edge. In the case of the cooperatives, in addition to those indicated, a greater variety of solutions is observed as time goes by, with some of the projects analysed prescribing screen-printed tiles in different formats, a variety of colours and designs. 

With regard to flooring, the RENFE dwellings are characterised by hydraulic tile flooring on a sand bed in single-colour square pieces measuring 25×25 cm throughout the dwelling, with perhaps a combination of different coloured pieces in perimeter strips, in main areas such as the living room or hallway (Illustration 1). In the case of cooperative dwellings, some of the projects analysed prescribe flooring based on glazed ceramic tiles or terrazzo.

Regarding the installations, the plumbing was generally made of galvanised iron and the sanitation was based on lead and fibre cement pipes. In the case of RENFE dwellings, the provision of water and electricity points and the production of hot water distinguished, within the second group of dwellings, between 2nd and 3rd category dwellings, the latter having only one water point in the kitchen and no hot water. In the case of 2nd category dwellings, hot water was generated by means of a kettle and thermosiphon included in the type of economic kitchen provided (Bilbao no. 7). 

Illustration 1. Entry to RENFE housing (Madrid Delicias). AHF, ADC-0899 (1954).

When the dwelling had a gallery, it had a sink which was generally only supplied with cold water. This changed in cooperative projects from the 1970s onwards as a result of the approval of specific regulations regarding installations, the change to gas or electricity supplies and greater comfort requirements (Cuéllar & Martínez-Corral, 2018b).

Although in the first RENFE projects the usual case included the installation of one zenithal light point per room and one or two sockets, the cable section and protection being minimal or non-existent, in the case of the cooperatives, the approval of the Low Voltage Electrotechnical Regulations in 1973 introduced substantial changes together with a greater requirement for sockets due to the progressive generalisation of television sets, fridges and small electrical appliances. 

One space where this evolution is clearly reflected is the kitchen, since, from being independent pieces (economic kitchen and sink) included in the living room in the RENFE projects without any type of countertop or additional equipment (Illustration 2), the kitchen is now equipped with a workbench based on brick supports and a tiled board, and, in the case of the cooperatives, we can finally observe the implementation of specific high and low furniture based on melamine, extractor hoods and marble worktops (Cuellar & Martinez-Corral, 2021).

Illustration 2. Kitchen type RENFE dwelling. (Vilanova i la Geltrú). AMF, B-96-RL (1957).


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Cuéllar, D., & Martínez-Corral, A. (2018a). 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.

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Cuéllar, D., & Martínez-Corral, A. (2021, septiembre). La cocina como lugar y herramienta: Una mirada al caso de las viviendas ferroviarias (Siglos XIX-XX). Jornadas INCUNA, Gijón.

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