A long-neglected cigarette factory, the Tabakalera has cast an imposing 26,000m² shadow over the RENFE train station since its construction in 1913. The city of San Sebastián began plotting a grand cultural center in the year 2001, and upon the 2003 closing of the factory, they scooped it right up with some financial help from bigger government institutions.
Five years later, architects hopped into the picture. Three years later, construction began. And on September 11, 2015, the doors opened to the new (improved?) Tabakalera, also known as the Centro Internacional de Cultura Contemporánea, or International Contemporary Culture Center.
The attempt to resuscitate it as an international culture centre, under the watch of architects Jon and Naiara Montero, consisted of a €56m government-sponsored renovation headlined by a curious combination of heavy hitters, like the Zinemaldi and KutxaKultur offices, and soft swingers, like a café on the first floor selling pre-packaged snacks.
The pop-up café pictured has since been changed for a permanent all-things-to-all-people beer pizza coffee shop. This is reflective generally of the entire building—a work in progress. The directors will recognize that it's a huge undertaking, and that they have been moving slowly yet as quickly as possible.
The space holds public plazas, artists residences, headquarters of various cultural entities, Ubik, a cultural library, Hirikilabs, art-centered stores downstairs, a cinema, and more. Things that, every time I turn around, seem to evolve. One thing remains—if only for its sheer size and amazing views, Tabakalera is a must visit when in San Sebastián.
Though the spartan limestone façade and the old entry facing the lush Cristina Enea park remains unchanged, a new, sweepingly modern plaza on the north side is where you can enter the four-floor-high lobby, whose I.M. Pei-like triangular glass ceiling is a nod to modernity.
The interiors themselves are white, black, and gray, with touches of chipboard as a hip, decorative nod to the industrial past. Whether budget motivated or aesthetic statement, we'll never know.
Make sure to hit the rooftop atrium, a glass and metal cage with superb views. Planned openings for a four-star hotel and a rooftop restaurant lend promise to the project, and it’s possible to visit any day from 8am to 10pm (11pm on weekends), with art exhibits, movies, and special events (from plays to lectures) open to the public. You can see what's going on here.
Plaza de las cigarreras, 1
20012 Donostia, Gipuzkoa
+34 943 11 88 55