The building where the Library of San Fernando's Pias Schools currently operates in the district of Lavapies in Madrid is the product of a transformation of over 250 years, which combines the Ruins of a clear Renaissance influenced temple with a magnificently accomplished modern architecture intervention that brings this building to the contemporaneity of the 21st century.
The "Nuestra Senora del Pilar" temple (now home to the library of the Escuelas Pias de San Fernando of UNED) was part of the building complex of the "Escuelas Pias de San Fernando" school, founded by the order of the Piarist Priests, who settled in the district of Lavapies in the city of Madrid in the year of 1729. The beginning of the construction of the temple goes back to the year 1763 with the name of "Templo de Nuestra Senora del Pilar" (Temple of Our Lady of the Pillar) because it was adjudged to the protection of this deity. The plans and the project are attributed to the architect Francisco Ruiz, who was a well-known and established architect in Madrid back in those days, and who would be in charge of this project between 1729 and 1744, the year in which he died. Later the project would end up in the hands of the architect Jose Alvarez, who would mainly be in charge of the construction of the rest of the college of San Fernando, until in 1761 the architect Antonio Valcarcel was put in charge of the project for a brief period of time that would last until the year of 1964 due to its sudden death, 1 year after the beginning of the construction of the temple itself. To the death of Valcarcel, the responsibility of the direction and construction of the work was given to the architect and brother of the order of the Piarist Gabriel Escribano, who would remain in control until the culmination of the work of the temple in the year 1791.
The Structure of the Temple
The temple was composed of a single rectangular shaped nave of approximately 12 m. wide covered by a large barrel vault, attached to a large rotunda of about 15 m. of a diameter which supported the tholobate and the imposing dome that topped the temple, of which nowadays there´s nothing left but vestiges. As an extension of the nave in direction of the main facade, a narthex emerged to welcome the visitors. The main facade which faces the Meson de Paredes street was formed by a lower level which went up to a stone cornice, and up from it on the second level the facade was divided into a central body topped by a large triangular shaped pediment, and two towers which were topped with small domes, and reached a height of about 22 m. On the other side of the rotunda, the nave of the church continued to make room for the presbytery, which would also be covered by a barrel vault. Also attached to the rotunda there was a small chapel dedicated to worship and baptism, a space that nowadays is an open courtyard.
In 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out, in which, like many other buildings of a religious nature, the church of the Nuestra Senora del Pilar was looted and burned, leaving only ruins of the Church still standing: the facade of Meson de Paredes street, part of the walls, the rotunda with the tholobate of the dome and some decorative elements. In the 1940s, part of the site, in the facade that faces the Embajadores street, the San Fernando Market was built by Casto Fernandez-Shaw, and in 1950, on the part of the site facing the Tribulete street, the Lavapies cinema was inaugurated. Meanwhile, the ruins of the old temple continued standing, thanks to the care of some authorities who were concerned about its maintenance. Also during the decade of the 70's the interior space of the ruins of the temple ruins was turned into a garden of public use, occupying the space where the main nave was once located and turning it into an opened space.
In 1999 as the first part of a global rehabilitation project, the construction of a parking began under the Agustin Lara square that is located across the street Sombrerete. The overall project was work of the architect Jose Ignacio Linazasoro. These works were completed in 2001, and in the same year, the rehabilitation project of the temple itself began, which was commissioned by the same architect, which culminated in 2004 turning the ruins of the temple into the library of the National Distance University (UNED). In the site where the movie theater of Lavapies was located, which had been empty since it was demolished, the classrooms were built. The final result of the intervention of Linazasoro is a magnificently achieved space, in which the part of the old ruins of the temple has suffered almost no alteration, always adapting the new elements to the pre-existing space, but at the same time with a great ability to revitalize a space that was at risk of being lost. Perhaps the most important work within this intervention was to have erected the facade wall that closes the building in the Sombrerete Street, and in which some pieces of the debris of the destroyed parts of the old temple can be seen embedded inside it.
The interior space has been constituted in a very simple way, adapting it to the needs of the library, generating a mezzanine space in double height achieved by the construction of a forged wooden structure supported by a structure of concrete beams and pillars located on the area of the current main access of the building from the Sombrerete street. Also in the area of the old presbytery, another mezzanine space has been generated in triple height with a similar structure, in which book shelves have been located and from which other spaces of the building can be accessed. To close the space in the interior part a false ceiling with wooden slats that hang from a structure of curved wooden trusses has been built, which lean on the walls of the building, both on the nave and the rotunda, emulating In this way a vaulted cover, perhaps to remember the first objective for which the building was conceived for.