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1998 Spanish Best Practices selected by the International Jury >

Navapalos 2000: Against Depopulation and for Sustainable Development, Soria (Spain)

Para consultar la versión castellana de este documento, pulse aquí.

Reference Date: 26-07-98

Experience selected in the 1998 Dubai Award for Best Practice, and catalogued as GOOD. ( Best Practices Database.)
País/Country: Spain

United Nations Region: Europe
Ecological region: Continental
Activity: village
Partnerships: Non-governmental organization (NGO). Local authority. Academic/research. Public, private and civil association.

Themes = Architecture and Urban Design: affordable/ecological design; historic preservation; landscape design; sustainable community design. Environmental Management: ecological sustainability; environmental remediation. Technology, Tools and Methods: appropriate technologies; networking; research and development; training and capacity building.

Main contact:
Centro Investigación Navapalos (Non-governmental organization)
Soria 42300

Erhard Rohmer, Architec - Town Planner
Presidente de INTER-ACCIÓN
C/ Infantas, 23 1. Ext. Dcha.
28004 Madrid
Tel: +34-91 531 21 55
Fax: +34-91 531 63 80

Regional Government of Castilla y León. Department of Environment (Regional authority)
Jesús Díez. Technician from the Department of the Environment
Salmerón 5
Junta de Castilla y León (Medio Ambiente)
Valladolid 47071
Tel: +34-983 41 17 15
Fax: +34-983 41 17 15
Partner One Support Type: Financial Support

The Scientific Research Council (CSIC) (Academic/research)
Dr. Francisco Muñoz de Escalona, Deputy Dir. of the Appl. Econ. Geog. Inst. (CSIC)
Pinar 25
Madrid 28071
Tel: +34-91 411 10 98
Fax: +34-91 562 55 67
Partner Two Support Type: Technical Support

Vice-Chancellor's Office for University Relations. University of Valladolid. (Academic/research)
Vice-Chancellor for University Relations
Plaza de Santa Cruz 8
Universidad de Valladolid
Valladolid 47071
Tel: +34-983 42 30 00
Fax: +34-983 42 32 34
Partner Three Support Type: Technical Support

Nominating Organization
Marta García Nart
Comité Nacional Español
Paseo de la Castellana, 67
28071 Madrid
Tlf: +34-91 597 75 72
Fax: +34-91 597 86 04


Navapalos, Soria, Castilla y León. Village abandoned by its inhabitants 38 years ago. Buildings made of adobe and brick. It was
converted into the Centre for Research into Autochthonous Techniques and Materials, Renewable Energies, Sustainable Development appropriate technologies and Technological transfer to Latin America. Since 1985, it has been refurbished using autochthonous techniques applying renewable energies. Courses, training camps, seminars and international meetings are held with representatives from up to 30 countries. The experience obtained in this village has been reflected on the other side of the Atlantic in projects for co-operation within the scope of people building their own low-cost dwellings with innovative technologies, power efficiency in buildings and alternative energies. In parallel to the latter, it provides training for technicians and beneficiaries, research and prevention inbuilding against possible catastrophes (resistance to earthquakes).

Key Dates

1985: Creation of the NAVAPALOS Research and Demonstration Centre.
1987: International Year of Shelter for the Homeless (IYSH-1987).
Message from the Centre for information of the United nations for Spain is enclosed, from Denise Cook for this event in Navapalos.
1991: Village for trades and Craftwork.
1992: Assembly of the Habiterra Network. (systemisation of the use of earth as a building material in dwellings of social interest). CYTED programme. Participants from over 30 countries.
1996: Creation of the Navapalos Foundation for Training and Research.
1985-1997: XIIth International Working Meetings on "earth as a building material, energies and sustainable development" in which around three hundred people took part, at each one of them, between students, professionals and experts from over 20 countries.


1. Situation prior to the initiative
The village of Navapalos is located in the Spanish Province of Soria, in the Municipal District of El Burgo de Osma, a region with an extreme and harsh climate, little populated, with a tendency towards depopulation and low economic activity. All these factors, apart from the making the initiative posed very difficult, had led this small village to total abandonment both by its inhabitants and by the local authorities. It should be pointed out that there are several villages in the same Municipal District that are in a similar situation. The autochthonous Architectural Heritage, which is of great beauty, was on the brink of disappearing and mostly in a state of imminent ruination. Significant houses through their type, materials and building techniques; presses; dovecotes; towers; ovens, etc, full of history, were all about to disappear. It should be pointed out that the village of Navapalos is expressly mentioned in the epic poem "Cantar del M.o Cid", one of the jewels of medieval Spanish literature.

The reasons which led to the creation of the "INTER-ACCION" Association, whose full name is "Friends of the Autochthonous Architecture and of the Popular Traditions of Spain", were the recovery of that Heritage, putting a halt to its destruction and providing the resettling of the population once the buildings were habitable. The initiative was motivated by the need to promote a depressed area where depopulation worsened social, cultural breakdown and that of architectural and environmental heritage.

2. Preparation of the information and clarification of priorities
It may be said that a large part of the activity carried out has concentrated on gathering information, studying and researching using the material obtained. On the other hand, one of the basic tasks still not finished has been the clarification of priorities, one of the first attempts put down in writing in the Navapalos 2000 Plan, published back then and an abstract of which is enclosed as supporting material. We highlight as the basic priorities:

  1. Restoring the village of Navapalos with ancient techniques and materials together with innovative technologies.
  2. Converting the village into a research and demonstration centre, where research, bioclimatic architecture, ecological materials, training, the Ecocentre, teleworking, etc. would make the village an attractive place, not only through its past, but also through its present and its future. An ancient village unafraid of innovation, which involves full research into the balance between urban and rural living.
  3. Transferring technology and research to other developing countries, which, like Navapalos, build with adobe, brick and other autochthonous building techniques.
  4. Revitalisation of the economic activity in the village for the resettlement of a new population.

3. Formulation of objectives, strategies and mobilisation of resources
Main objective: Fight against the depopulation of large rural areas, preservation of architectural and cultural heritage, providing sustainable development in Spain and other countries.

Specific objectives:

  1. Restore and revitalise Navapalos.
  2. Research and train in the subjects of the Research Centre: Building with soil; sustainable development; alternative energies; international co-operation in these fields.
  3. Involve Institutions and Public Authorities in the recovery of architectural and cultural heritage and the resettlement of population in rural areas in danger of depopulation and abandonment.
The relations of "Inter-Acción" with the institutions which have supported this initiative for restoring this village have been different both in terms of time and in their contributions: - Autonomous Regional Government of "Castilla y León", Regional Panning Department, provided subsidies for the project for its execution. At the present time, Inter-Acción and the Navapalos Foundation have requested its co-operation through the rural development programme called PRODER, in order to continue the tasks for the rehabilitation, inventory and training work, which is part of the 1998 budget for Navapalos.

The Scientific research Council (CSIC).
It supported the initiative from the outset, as an Institution by means of a Collaboration Agreement signed with "Inter-Acción" and carried out more specifically through some of its institutes, especially, the Geography and Applied Economics Institute, the Eduardo Torroja Building Sciences Institute, the Cold Institute, the Environmental Sciences Institute and also those researchers from the CSIC, who, on a personal basis, have been supporting the teaching and research work carried out and some of them have created, through the initiative of "Inter-Acción", the NAVAPALOS FOUNDATION and they have joined its governing body to better develop its objectives.

The University of Valladolid has signed a Collaboration Agreement with "Inter-Acción" and the Navapalos Foundation for validating the post-graduate course held there and carrying out joint activities such as the "Julio Caro Baroja" Course.

4. Process: Difficulties and Problems
The difficulties and problems encountered have been and still are sizeable. Over a decade of work in difficult conditions is impossible to sum up in a few lines. We shall highlight the following:

Misunderstanding: Concepts such as Sustainable Development, Alternative Energies, Restoration with autochthonous techniques, and other similar ones, which nowadays seem to be on the tip of everyone's tongue, were little understood when the initiative first started.

Lack of financial means: The lack of funds which would allow a sustained and planned initiative was one of the largest problems encountered and which even today is still an obstacle for developing the initiative.

Restoration costs and purchase of properties. Refurbishment when well done and started at such a late stage is very costly, both if it is disassembled instead of demolishing and if it is preserved in all of its purity. Properties owned by private individuals are not always sold or refurbished.

5. Results obtained

  1. Buildings saved. Handsome, emblematic buildings today shine with all their beauty and are used and lived in.
  2. First stable inhabitants have moved in. In the end, one family and some workers live in the village permanently.
  3. Technicians trained. Numerous technicians, workers, researchers have passed through the courses, workshops and meetings at Navapalos for over ten years.
  4. International repercussions: Representatives from thirty countries, especially from Europe and South America have visited Navapalos. The project is renowned throughout South America, the USA, the EU, India, etc.
  5. Research carried out: Low cost dwellings; techniques for constructing own homes; bioclimatic modules; earthquake resistance; alternative energies; resistance and behaviour of materials and techniques: Brick, Adobe and power efficiency have all been researched.
  6. Infrastructure created. Lecture halls, hall for meetings and conferences, laboratory for research into building materials, workshops for wood, pottery, recycled paper, weaving, accommodation for students, services, power park (wind power, solar power and thermal power), running water, dining-room, patio for craftwork and gastronomy.
  7. People who have taken part. Since 1985, the year in which the project started, courses, work camps, seminars, international meetings and teaching visits have been held, giving an approximate total of 1,200 participants/year, without counting the numerous visitors who visit to get to know more about the project.
  8. Awareness Great awareness has been achieved on the subjects of the preservation of heritage in clay and on social problems of homelessness and the environment.
  9. Replacing abandonment with a promising future. Ways for sustainable development have been found which will allow a larger settlement of population and greater economic activity.

6. Sustainability
The search for sustainability has been one of the clearest objectives: sustainability of the development that is intended; sustainability of the settling of the population; sustainability of the project. The ten years spent in much more difficult conditions allow us to state that more rightly and given the present circumstances and the results already obtained that the project is sustainable, now in a more specific way we shall deal with sustainability from the following viewpoints:

  1. Environmental sustainability: given that the project/initiative that is presented has revolved around sustainable development since the beginning, not merely as an abstract concept but rather as a practical application and an opportunity to show Navapalos as a centre with a living culture.

  2. sustainability of the project from the organisational, economic and strategic point of view as regards the capacity for the maintenance and durability of the initiative is more complex, some of the factors on which it is based depend on the "Inter-Acción" association and the Navapalos Foundation and in this sense a strategic plan is being prepared to solve the dependency on external funding and which will ensure the mobilisation of resources and the recovery of costs.

At this time the infrastructure in Navapalos, the knowledge that has been gained from the experience, the publication of its methods and skills and the fitting out of some of the buildings so that they may be used outside of the summer seasons, by making them comfortable and installing central heating will allow a more continuous flow of income.
The strategy for the future will involve uniting all the institutions interested in the Navapalos experience in order to mobilise resources and to concentrate the efforts of all of them.

7. Lesson learnt
The main lesson is that the challenge of reviving a village in a depressed area and in the conditions in which Navapalos was in, is a much larger job than was assumed at first. Therefore,

8. Possibilities of transfer
The work carried out in Navapalos is very useful for co-operation with other countries. It should be said as one of the achievements of the initiative that not only is it possible to transfer it but that is exactly what we have been doing since the start:

The immediate project for the future is to prepare projects for Africa, where they also build using earth. On the other hand, the work in Navapalos goes far beyond the simple restoration of a village-museum and also beyond rural tourism, as it has been understood till now, its difficulty lies in its originality and it could in fact be used as a model to make overall plans for the recovery of large rural areas, a study on the extent to which those ancient techniques may still be used; making an inventory of architectural and cultural heritage and recycling the concept that has been accepted about it till now.

In the era of telecommunications, Internet and other technological revolutions, which now allow the location of your home in large cities to become relative, and in which wellbeing, unpolluted surroundings and contact with nature are sought after by young and not so young people, the experience of Navapalos could be gathered together in a manual for sustainable rural development, what to do to avoid depopulation, what to do to revitalise depopulated areas, the experience of Navapalos constitutes all by itself a real development of Agenda 21 or the Habitat Programme into something as concrete as rural development understood as a new concept.

References (See press dossier):

Erhard Rohmer, Buildings made of earth, Ethnology and folklore in Castilla Leon, Research into clay at the Navapalos centre Erhard Rohmer, Second International Meeting on earth as a building material. Published by the Provincial Council of Soria. (a list of publications is enclosed)

Newspaper "Soria Semanal" 1985 - 1997
National Newspaper "El País".
Since 1985 Newspaper "Soria: Hogar y Pueblo". 1985
Newspaper "El Norte de Castilla". 1986
Newspaper "Diario de Soria". 1986
National Newspaper "El Mundo". 1990 (press releases are enclosed).

Este documento se ha editado a partir de una versión inglesa.
Revisado por Gloria Gómez Muñoz.

1998 Spanish Best Practices selected by the International Jury >
Ciudades para un Futuro más Sostenible
Búsqueda | Buenas Prácticas | Documentos | Boletín CF+S | Novedades | Convocatorias | Sobre la Biblioteca | Buzón/Mailbox
Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
Grupo de Investigación en Arquitectura, Urbanismo y Sostenibilidad
Departamento de Estructuras y Física de la EdificaciónDepartamento de Urbanística y Ordenación del Territorio