Restoration

RESTORATION

Taken from the article "Los Baños del Almirante: un edificio único" by Soledad Martí and Santiago Tormo.

Initial state

Before the current restoration work began, the condition of the baths was the result of the many renovations they had endured, some to transform and adapt the space so as to upgrade it as a bath facility, and others to conserve it, as was the case in the 1950s and 1960s. Apart from the modifications carried out in the interior, other changes were made due to urban development, such as the widening and improvement of the street at the beginning of the 19 th century (which led to a reduction in the size of the boiler room and a forward displacement of the entranceway), or the construction of a building over the hot room at the end of the same century (resulting in the construction of a cellar and the elimination of a significant part of the hypocaust, located under the floor.) The changes in the way the bath was used also led to multiple openings and renovations in the walls. The final outcome revealed serious alterations in wall faces, large cracks (especially in the vaults) and the modification of the original passageways.

The restoration

The restoration project for the Baños del Almirante was drawn up at the end of 2000, by a multidisciplinary team directed by the architects Julián Esteban Chapapría and Ricardo Sicluna Lletget, both from the Regional Ministry of Culture and Education, and by José Luis Robles, from the Regional Ministry of the Economy and Treasury. Because of the characteristics of the monument and the type of work involved, Concha Camps, the team's archaeologist, also played a prominent role.
 
The restoration project focused on three areas: the steam-rooms, the vestibule, and the space remaining between these areas and the street. The goal was to open the building for public visits and to show, through the use of the appropriate resources and technology, its original function and purpose.
 
The restoration also included the recuperation of the original operating layout. This entailed closing the spaces that did not correspond with the original passageways, reconstructing the vault in the hot room and the area of the missing hypocaust, as well as repairing damaged walls and vaults. As for the finishing procedures, whitewash was chosen for the wall faces as well as the vaults. The skylights were treated depending on their state of conservation and were covered with glass lids. For the flooring of the rooms, ceramic pieces of identical measurements as the original ones were used. Original pieces of tile found at the site were also incorporated into the cold room's floor.
 
The replacement of the double wooden doors between the rooms and the addition of light, sound and special effects are intended to recreate the bath's original operation.

 

All the restoration work was designed with the utmost respect towards the pre-existing structures, using techniques that are compatible with those of the bath's original construction. An attempt was also made to reproduce in the finishing work the techniques used up to the 18 th century.
 
An entire section was built over the hollowed vestibule in order to complete the architectural topology of the bath and to make it understandable. The main objective of this was to substantiate the essence of the space, its height, lighting, etc, based on the image passed on by the French traveller Laborde.
 
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Lastly, the space between the baths and the street has been made into a new area that is used to access the monument. It is a narrow space and the ground floor in front of the vestibule has been designed for the reception of visitors. The entranceway has kept its Neo-Arab decoration

 

Sealing cracks

The many alterations made on the wall faces and vaults and, especially, the repeated opening of new passageways, had enormously weakened the building, producing numerous cracks, some of which were several centimetres wide. The hot room even suffered the loss of the vault's generatrix, as was shown by a step. The solution adopted for these cases was the injection of a very fluid hydrated lime mortar. The joint was first sealed externally, using cannulas, to assure that it was filled. The dose varied depending on the size of the crack, since it was important to make sure that the mortar reached the entire area and that it was filled to the brim. In cracks wider than 5 cm, reinforcing fibreglass rods were used to prevent the outer layer of mortar from falling off.

Cob wall repairs

A cob mixture was used to cover the inappropriate holes in the steam-room walls. This mixture consisted of different size pebbles and hydrated lime as a binding agent, so that the finish would have a texture similar to the original. All these components were tightly packed down in layers, maintaining the size of the old formwork. The centre of these holes was reinforced with bricks, which were perforated to obtain a firm connection that would allow an effective sharing of forces with the old, remaining materials.
 

Lime treatments

The treatment chosen for the interior covering of the rooms was a whitewash of pure lime, very diluted with water, and the application of up to ten coats. This over layering of whitewash allowed the lime to become part of the support system, each layer adhering to the next, and also contributed to the reinforcement and the consolidation of the cob material and the existing covering.
 
The vaulted ceilings were, in general, in an acceptable condition, although the passing of time and the harsh climatic conditions had caused the outer surfaces to deteriorate, with losses in certain places. The decision of not superimposing or redefining any groins that were not pre-existing, and of not introducing modern materials, whose chemical products would assure sealing and impermeability, led to the solution of making a covering layer of very flexible lime mortar composed of siliceous and calcareous aggregates and lime paste, which had been wrapped up and cured for more than 6 months. It was applied with trowels in two layers, like stucco, and had a total thickness of 5 mm. It adapted to the existing surface like a second skin, preserving the historical imperfections and maintaining the vaults' texture from the 14 th century.

 

New wall faces

In the newly made vertical and horizontal faces, modern materials whose interpretation could be integrated into the context of the rest of the building were chosen. Therefore, the nogging and the walls of the vestibule and stairwell were made with white, reinforced HA-25 concrete, and the foundations were solved by means of micropiling. For the covering, high resistance pre-mixed mortars with very fine aggregates were used.

Installations 

The difficulty inherent to the layout is greatly complicated when working on the historical fabric of a monument. Following a criterion of maximum respect, it was decided to lay cables (for the electrical, security and sound systems) under the floors of the rooms, placing them as discretely as possible while satisfying all the technical requirements. Lights and mechanisms were built into these pavements. There is one central control panel, which is very easy to operate, for all the systems that make up the museographic installation. It controls everything from the darkening of the vestibule (through mechanical roller blinds on the windows), to the heat settings of the hot room. The installation of a cable heating system makes it possible to raise the temperature of the floor up to 29ºC [85ºF], to simulate the old hypocaust, but with a minimum thickness of only 7 cm.

The challenges of a limited space

The diversity of treatments and construction processes performed in such a limited space (the ground floor has a total surface of 281 m 2 , the width of the entrance area is 1.8 m, together with the narrow surrounding street, 3 m), implied an enormous and complex challenge for carrying out the restoration work. We have to add that the difficulties of having such a small space—for work and storage, unloading materials and accessing machinery—implied a series of obstacles that determined, to a great extent, how things were done.