Cardiff academic wins prestigious heritage prize

Dr Federico Wulff, Lecturer of Architectural and Urban Design from the Welsh School of Architecture, was awarded with a European Heritage Award, Europe’s most prestigious honour in the field, for his remarkable restoration of the Oratory of the Partal Palace in The Alhambra (Granada, Spain).

Melina Guirnaldos, a PhD student and tutor, also participated in the awarded restoration project of the Oratory of the Partal palace in the Alhambra, as Federico Wulff’s partner in their office, W+G architects.

The Oratory of the Partal Palace is a private palatine mosque within the Alhambra complex that was built during the reign of the sultan Yusuf I for his private use. Together with the Arabic Houses of the Partal Palace and the House of Astasio de Bracamonte, they form a set of buildings that formed an essential part of the medieval daily life of the Partal Palace.

A restoration programme, led by Dr Wulff, was commissioned by the World Monuments Fund and Robert W. Wilson Challenge and completed in June 2017. The project involved the restoration of decorated timber frames, ceilings, entrances and corridors, as well as breathing new life into the decorative interior walls.

The project revealed previously unknown 14th-century inscriptions, decorative elements and technical solutions that were not known to have been employed in the Alhambra before this restoration.

The project has subsequently furthered our understanding of the building construction techniques of the 14th-Century Hispano-Muslim carpenters and master masons of the Alhambra palaces, and on the subsequent historical repairs and restorations of this important heritage building.

The judging panel commented: “An important part of European, cross-cultural history is represented at this site. Its restoration, an excellent example of public-private heritage partnership, is based on thorough interdisciplinary, scientific research and has revealed further details about Nasrid construction and carpentry technology. It showcases the richness and diversity of the materials used and is respectful of the previous interventions on the building.”

Dr Federico Wulff is a Lecturer of Architecture Design and Urban Design at the Welsh School of Architecture, a European researcher and an award-winning practitioner. He is the Course Director of the Masters of Architectural Design (MA AD).

Commenting on the award, Dr Wulff said: “The innovative aspects of this restoration, its close connections with my academic research developed in Cardiff University, the syncretic architecture of this medieval building and the fact that the Oratory of the Partal Palace embodies the most important restoration approaches in Spain over the last 170 years, has resulted in our work being awarded at the highest European level.”

The construction of the Alhambra Heritage complex, considered the most important Heritage site in Spain, the most visited and UNESCO worldwide listed since 1984, was initiated in the mid-thirteenth-century under Muhammad al-Ahmar (1195 -1273), the first Emir of the Kingdom of Granada.

The scope was to build a complex that included a palace and a military fortress for the recently created Hispano-Muslim Nasrid dynasty. A century later, the Alhambra was mainly completed during the reigns of the sultans Yusuf I (1333-1354) and his son Muhammad V (1354 -1391).

The European Heritage Awards/ Europa Nostra Awards were launched by the European Commission in 2002 and have been run by Europa Nostra ever since. They celebrate and promote best practices related to heritage conservation, research, management, voluntarism, education and communication.

This restoration has also been selected for the Europa Nostra Grand Prix 2019, together with other 2 other awarded works. The Grand Prix 2019 awards the best restoration of 2019 in Europe. An overall winner will be announced at the awards ceremony on the 29 October in Paris, hosted by the President of France Emmanuel Macron and presented by the Opera singer Placido Domingo, President of Europa Nostra.

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