Fieldwork 2020: Mudejar plaster, an element of identity, knowledge and future opportunities

The project Mudejar plaster, an element of identity, knowledge and future opportunities has had a wide-ranging journey with the aim of facilitating knowledge for a compatible intervention in the traditional architecture of Mudejar villages.

The objectives have been, on the one hand, to disseminate the true role of plaster in traditional Aragonese architecture, carrying out a study and quantification of the construction systems and techniques carried out with traditional plaster in the villages of the Mudejar territory, both in popular architecture and in monumental architecture. And secondly, to study the composition of a plaster that can be manufactured nowadays and that preserves the legacy received, allowing the reactivation of some of the quarries studied and fixing the population in the rural environment, for its reintroduction in contemporary architecture or for restoration and rehabilitation; including the analysis of its economic, social and sustainable viability, returning it to some of the uses it had in the past.

The municipalities that took part in this study were Aniñón, Borja, Calatayud, Daroca, Fuentes de Ebro, La Almunia de Doña Godina, Maluenda, Quinto de Ebro, Ricla, San Mateo de Gállego, Tauste, Terrer, Tobed, Villa de Jiloca, Villafeliche, Villamayor de Gállego and Zuera.

During the study of these municipalities, we have identified the construction typologies executed with traditional plaster in old and recent constructions, locating major aspects that coincide between the municipalities in the versatility of the use of plaster, both in interior cladding, façade applications, exterior decorations, flooring and structural elements until the great change that construction underwent between 1950-1970 with the arrival of modern materials, relegating traditional materials to oblivion.

Mineralogical studies of Mudéjar plaster have revealed the presence of hydraulic phases in Mudéjar plaster (which was fired at very high temperatures), making these plasters much more resistant to stress than modern plasters, which are fired at very low temperatures.

With this contribution of knowledge about this traditional material, the importance of preserving the legacy and knowledge of making Mudejar plaster, a process that remained unchanged until the mid-20th century when the link of knowledge passed down and refined over many generations was broken.

LINE OF RESEARCH: New perspectives.

THE AUTHORS:

Project coordinator: Pedro Bel Anzué. Environmental Architecture.

Main researchers: Marta Monzón Chavarrías (University of Zaragoza), Kerstin Elert (University of Granada), José Manuel López Osorio (University of Malaga), David Sanz Arauz (Polytechnic University of Madrid).

Advisors linked to the project: Ramón Rubio Domene (Alhambra, Granada) and Antonio Almagro Gorbea (School of Arabian Studies-CSIC).

2019 Fieldwork: Mudejar plaster work, as used today: searching the memories of artisans for the keys to traditional production

The fieldwork project entitled Mudejar plaster work, as used today represented the next step in Pedro Bel’s doctoral thesis, which confirmed that Mudejar plaster production techniques remained unchanged until the mid-20th century. This research digs further into the traditional plaster production process to gain an in-depth understanding of it and to identify the catalysts and motives that led to changes in today’s plaster production, increasing its quantity and reducing its quality. During the project, former plaster artisans were located and their technique was documented, noting the variations today. In the process, quarries and former gypsum furnaces were also visited, documenting their conditions and creating a 3D photogrammetric survey at those of particular interest; a registry was also made to identify the region’s buildings with typical Mudejar plaster features. As stated in the conclusion, the ultimate aim is to revitalize work spaces linked to construction trades, re-activating them by creating a local business devoted to traditional or Mudejar plaster production.

The research took place in the towns of Aniñón, Borja, Calatayud, Daroca, Fuentes de Ebro, La Almunia de Doña Godina, Longares, Maluenda, Quinto de Ebro, Ricla, San Mateo de Gállego, Tauste, Terrer, Tobed, Villamayor, Villafeliche and Villar de los Navarros.

The study shows that traditional plaster production processes were prevalent until 1950, after which time the technology at the quarries began to develop rapidly. Those that failed to adapt quickly became obsolete and went bankrupt, making it commonplace to find gypsum plaster furnaces still intact and storerooms containing gypsum at the old Aragonese quarries. The semi-industrialization that took place in the fifties altered the traditional plaster made, and the change that had the greatest impact was when manual grinding was replaced with mechanical grinding procedures.

External factors that influenced this phenomenon include strong demographic growth stemming from a favorable economic and social setting, which led to strong demand, thus driving the pre-industrialization process.

LINE OF RESEARCH: (1) New Perspectives on Mudejar Art

THE AUTHOR: Pedro Bel Anzué is an architect with a PhD in Architectural Heritage Restoration from the University of Granada.