All too often in cities across the globe, we see beautiful old buildings laid to waste by urban decay. Whether damaged in the conflicts of the 20th century, or crumbling through disuse in times of economic downturn, it’s increasingly rare to see an old building stand the test of time while at the same time playing a continuing role in the urban landscape. But in one town in Spain, a very creative group of people have worked together to breathe new life into a beautiful structure.
The story of this particular building starts 100 years ago in Llanera, a town in the Asturias region of northern Spain. Local architect Manuel del Busto designed this beautiful church in the style of the Romanesque revival.
After its opening in 1912, the Santa Barbara Church played an important role in the local community. Workers from Llanera’s ammunition works would use it as a meeting place, perhaps drawn by its impressive architecture.
However, the cataclysmic events of the Spanish Civil War put a stop to this tradition. War raged between the Republicans and the Nationalists, and after the Republicans were finally defeated in 1939, the factory shut down.
As the years turned into decades, the building lapsed into dilapidation through disuse. A sad fate for such a glorious structure, you might think. But Santa Barbara’s fortunes were about to change, thanks to the efforts of an unlikely group of people.
Recently, a group of skaters, eagerly searching for a new territory in which to hone their skills, happened upon the church. The secluded location and awesome architecture impressed them.
One of the skaters in particular saw huge potential in the abandoned place of worship. Ernesto Fernández Rey initially had an ambition to open a business in the space, even though the church looked to be beyond repair. As he told the Guardian newspaper, “It was pretty much in ruins when we started the project.”
But a twist of fate would play a hand in Santa Barbara’s destiny. Rey’s new business venture coincided with Spain’s economic crash, so the skater was forced to change tack.
Along with his buddies from the skate community, Rey formed the “Church Brigade.” They set themselves the task of repurposing the beautiful church to service the needs of local skateboarders. First, they collected funds so they could install a ramp. But they didn’t stop there.
The idea proved hugely popular, not least because it rains on around 200 out of every 365 days in Asturias, and local skaters were glad of the chance to practice their moves out of the wet. But it’s what happened next that is seriously impressive.
As word of the project spread, the list of financial donors grew. Soft-drinks firm Red Bull stepped in, and a crowdsourcing campaign collected more than $25,000. But one key figure was still to get involved.
Step forward, Madrid-based artist Okuda San Miguel. His colorful work, heavily inspired by street-art style, seemed like it could be the perfect fit for a skater’s sanctuary.
Miguel was commissioned to add his own personal touches to the rejuvenated sanctum. With a massive, newly installed half-pipe seeing to the immediate needs of the skaters, the artist’s touch was set to brighten up the space.
Using vibrant colors of spray paint, Miguel adorned the walls and ceiling with his idiosyncratic style. Where once there may have been depictions of angels, saints and apostles, Miguel sprayed on people, animals and skulls.
The artist enlivened the walls with a spectrum of bright colors, geometric patterns and lively murals. The grandiose arches and vaulted ceilings of the structure were given a new lease of life with the help of Miguel’s eye-popping, graffiti-inspired aesthetic.
To contrast with the vibrant palette of bright colors, Miguel also introduced black areas, featuring their own spaced-out galaxies of sprayed-on stars. Cosmic, dude.
Miguel applied his final touches to the space in December 2015, revealing his astounding artwork to a new generation of skaters. With such an impressive handiwork, and in such a religious setting, he couldn’t resist a cheeky self-comparison to Michelangelo, declaring in an interview with Spanish website Restos de Cultura, “It is like my personal Sistine Chapel.”
But in all fairness, Okuda really has helped create an inspiring environment for the skateboarders of Llanera, and done the powerful structure of Santa Barbara justice. Not bad for an artist who cut his teeth on painting in derelict warehouses.
The space has been called Kaos Temple, and is now a public skatepark. Staying true to its original purpose as a focal point for the neighborhood, La Igelsia Skate, as it is also known, provides a meeting place for Llanera’s skateboarding community.
And we’re sure they’re very grateful to Miguel for decorating a place that is now worthy of an altogether different kind of worship. What can you say – skaters gonna skate.
Okuda, meanwhile, continues to reimagine streets across the world as his own personal canvas, having spread his awesome geometric style over five continents. Let’s hope he continues to transform the world’s neglected urban spaces for a long time to come.