British and Colonial architectural influences in southwest Spain

PDP_Architectural influences Southwest Spain

Centuries of mining on the sunny southwestern coast of the Iberian Peninsula has left an interesting legacy of colonial architectural influences in Spain, writes Fernando Collado Lopez, the newest member of our Design Team, in the first of a two-part article.

Minerals in the Rio Tinto (Burgundy river) area of southern Spain close to the border with Portugal have been exploited since ancient times and are amongst the oldest mines in Europe. Tartessians, Phoenicians and later on Roman mining activity represented a golden age of mining activity in the region but this later faded away under Visigotic and Arabic periods until the middle of the 19th century by which point activity had almost ceased. 

However, after the discovery of new mines in the second half of the 19th century British, French and German enterprises cast their eyes over the region, buying and reopening existing mines and creating new ones. A new railway, docks and associated infrastructure were quickly built, transforming the local economy and profoundly affecting the regional style of architecture. 

The Tharsis Sulphur and Copper Company (1866-1873) became the world’s biggest mining company followed by The Rio Tinto Company limited (RTCL), which then became the largest company for the next 50 years. The RTCL also purchased land adjacent to the main docks in the capital Huelva, the Rio Tinto, surrounding fields and settlement and the eastern side of the existing railway lines. Some of these strategic moves would determine the city’s future urban growth and development, forcing the city to grow further north constrained by the Tinto and Odiel river flood plains.

The RTCL developed an unusual combination of buildings across the region with a strong English character and some adopted vernacular elements. During this period, steel bridges, peers and docks as well as various buildings and mine barracks, terrace, semi-detached and detached houses designed by the company’s architect, Alan Brace, began to emerge across the landscape. Other excellent examples of this period were the Hotel Colon built in 1883 developed by Wilhelm Sundheim and Hugh Mathenson and designed by Jose Perez Santa Maria & Andres Mora, and the Reina Victoria neighbourhood.

Around 1880 the RTCL became aware of the Punta Umbria beach adjacent to a small fishing village as Guillermo Sundheim, the company’s local manager, had built a small bungalow by the beach to enjoy the unspoiled surroundings.

The company decided to make it a retreat for the company’s executives to have a break from the sulphurous air surrounding the mines and so successful was this move to the beach, that from 1882-1895, up to 11 buildings were built, the last two, erected under the direction of J.Clayton, setting a new regional trend around the bungalow type that has endured until recent times.

In next month’s second instalment we will look in more detail at methods of construction and the continuing legacy of colonial architectural influences which endures to this day.

Fernando Collado Lopez is an ARB registered architect who joined Planning & Design Practice in February 2019. Previously working in the private sector in a variety of practices and locations including United States of America, Spain and London.

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