The rehabilitation of a 95-year-old workers’ cooperative in Barcelona into a new theatre and drama centre will be the topic of the first Utzon Lecture of 2019.

To be presented by the co-founders of the award-winning Flores & Prats architectural office in Barcelona, Eva Prats and Ricardo Flores, the lecture will focus on the design process of the Sala Beckett International Drama Centre, which began with a ruin that had been abandoned for 30 years.

When architects Prats and Flores won a competition to design the renovation of the dilapidated building, they decided to preserve a major part of the decoration including decorative floor tiles, doors, coloured glass and rosettes.

The building was being gradually destroyed by rain, wind and pigeons and the roof had a hole through which sunlight penetrated. The architects saw the ray of light at the centre of the old scenery as an optimistic sign of a new possible future.

“The building interested us, not to restore it, but rather to take the ruin forward and make it a participant, with its unfinished character of superimposed periods, in a new reality that would continue to be updated on this foundation,” Flores says.

“Now, a ray of natural light is kept inside the building, changing the atmosphere of its central circulation space throughout the year.”

The rehabilitation resulted in the Sala Beckett International Drama Centre, a place dedicated to promote new drama stories and to put them on stage for the first time.

Their work on the drama centre has earned Flores and Prats the City of Barcelona Award and the Special Mention at the Spanish National Awards.

The architects also took a full-scale fragment of the Sala Beckett into the Arsenale at last year’s Venice Biennale.

Prats and Flores will discuss the design process of the Sala Beckett at the first 2019 Utzon Lecture titled ‘The Discipline of the Existing’ on 23 January 2019.

The lecture is hosted by the UNSW Faculty of Built Environment.

Prats says that they will talk about the way they work with existing buildings, gradually developing from a process of observing and not from a preconceived or imposed idea of how to deal with existing structures.

“By approaching historic buildings this way, they acquire the role of an actor inside the project, which along with the client and architect, are equally as important.”

Prats believes this viewpoint contributes to a city by opening a dialogue between the building and its history, the physical and social heritage.

Flores & Prats have been involved in the design of public spaces, social housing, and the rehabilitation of old public structures for new occupations.

According to Flores, old buildings have the ability to describe the passing of time, and rehabilitating them involves bringing together all the different layers of their history. Most old structures have very generous spaces with huge dimensions, which are perfect for new programs. By giving them new life, these buildings can once again participate in the dynamics of the city, he added.

The award-winning architects have been honoured with the Grand Award in Architecture at the Royal Academy of Arts of London for their Mills Museum in Mallorca, and the City of Palma Award for the Cultural Centre Casal Balaguer. They have also been nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – the Mies van der Rohe Awards – in 2005, 2015 and 2016, and have exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Research is a critical part of their work with learnings translated into new projects. Heritage is important to their practice, as it “explains the time that has passed, becoming the real testimonies of the culture of a place”.

Prats and Flores are both professors of Design Studio at the School of Architecture of Barcelona and RMIT, and have directed design workshops in universities in the US, South America, Europe and Australia.

During their time at UNSW, the architects are also hosting a two-week studio.

The Utzon Lecture ‘The Discipline of the Existing’ by Flores & Prats will be held on Wednesday, 23 January 2019, 6pm (registration 5.30pm) at the Law Theatre, UNSW Sydney.