A provincial town on the Cantabrian Sea, where life flows calm and unperturbed, is the unlikely setting for the largest structure ever erected in Spain. It began construction in the outskirts of the city of Gijon in 1945, only six years after Franco’s triumph in the Civil War. After more than half a century, it still elicits controversial feelings of rejection, admiration and above all, surprise.
In a society torn by political division and urgent needs of reconstruction, the Universidad Laboral (Labor University) with 270.000 square meters of space, is an odd record of the priorities of the military in power. It was intended for the education of orphans of the region’s miners. Its layout, component parts and multiple outbuildings, including a farm of 240 hectares, is puzzling for its massive size and reach.
A renowned architect, Luis Moya Blanco, not particularly suspicious of affinities with the authorities, designed the curious project, turning his back to the prevailing modernist influences and seeking inspiration in a more classical model. The spirit of the place evokes the magnificent austerity of El Escorial and at the same time it looks back unashamedly to the ancient proportions of Greece and Rome. Its dimensions correspond to the obsessions of an autocratic ideology, its form to an amalgamated system of aesthetics.
The destiny of this unconventional project turned out to be as incomplete as the conclusion of the building itself. Following the resignation of José Antonio Girón, the promoter of this model of educational centers, the construction was stopped. Nevertheless, the center began its active life with the Jesuits at the helm. At the peak of its activity it had 3,000 pupils. With the passing of the years and the advent of democracy, the fate of the place was sealed. It was gradually abandoned, the dependencies closed, the educators gone. It had the ugly stain of fascism, a memory to be erased. Today, the local authorities are attempting a piecemeal revival of this colossal venture. In spite of the well-intentioned efforts, this strange citadel remains ghostly, still looking for its identity, robbed of a soul that it never possessed.