About Us

Our work strives to enhance our sense of surroundings, identity and relationship to others and the physical spaces we inhabit, whether feral or human-made.

Selected Awards
  • 2004 — Aga Khan Award for Architecture
  • 2009 — Mies van der Rohe Award
  • 2013 — AIA/ALA Library Building Award
  • 2015 — Best Interior, Designers Saturday
  • 2016 — AIA New York Honor Award

The lime kiln

In 1956, Joan Oliveras had a kiln built for large-scale lime production. It was a large industrial kiln, with the interior covered in stone from the quarries of Alcañís, in Aragon.

 It was not the first kiln that Lime Joan, as he was known, had built. He had constructed more than twenty kilns distributed throughout Beuda, Sales de Llierca and Sant Ferriol, and he well knew the importance of placing them near the raw material and of having a good team of workers, in charge of feeding and controlling the calcination process.

Thus, Joan sent the stone from the Castellot de Beuda quarry and the Llers quarries to be burnt in this kiln, and had many good workers, such as Jaume Serra, known as Met Sisrals, from the town of Argelaguer.

The kiln remained in operation for ten years, until industrial changes in the sector made it unfeasible.

The traditional uses of lime

Lime production has been a fairly common activity in our country, due to the abundance of limestone, the ease with which it can be produced, and the many applications that lime has traditionally had.

It has been used as a mortar in construction, to whitewash the facades of houses with the aim of waterproofing and insulating them from outside heat, to prevent pests and fungi in crops and to clean stables and coops, given its disinfecting power. Until the seventeenth century, taking advantage of the corrosive force of quicklime, it was common in burials, especially in times of epidemics.

Given the significant consumption of lime, it is not surprising, then, that lime kilns proliferated where there was an abundance of firewood and limestone.

 

From tradition to the lime industry

Lime production is probably Roman in origin and the technique used in kilns did not vary much until in the second half of the twentieth century until cement, obtained through fully industrial processes, began to replace lime.

The location of the traditional kilns was conditioned by how easy it was to get the raw material there and then to transport the extracted lime. To this was added the presence of sloping ground, which would lighten the task of loading and emptying the kiln. It should be borne in mind that this artisanal production had to be combined with other jobs typical of the rural world, such as harvesting or removing the barks from cork oaks.

In the twentieth century, these traditional ovens gave way to industrial ovens, dedicated intensively to this activity all year round. They were built of stone and lime mortar, and the interior was lined with fire-resistant sandstone, so that they did not suffer the wear and tear of traditional kilns.

 

Organization of the work

Getting a good firing, however, was the result of teamwork, by those who were in charge of feeding and controlling the firing process, and by the men who collected the branches and carried them to the mouth of the kiln.

Jaume Serra, better known as Met Sisrals, one of the last “calciners” and who worked in the lime kiln of Besalú, offers us a first-hand testimony about the cooking process and the effort and skill it required.

  • «It was very important for a good firing that the opening at the bottom, where the firewood was added, was very narrow, because otherwise a lot of fire and heat would escape. A batch of 40 tons of stone used to last a week. A week that the kiln had to burn day and night. We were three men working three-hour shifts each, the one that ended his shift woke up the next. We didn’t need an alarm clock. We added the branches with a long iron fork. It was non-stop hauling branches to the kiln. They used to be dry pine branches. One batch needed a dozen men, three for the kiln, and eight or nine for gathering and hauling firewood. The cooking temperature had to be around 800 degrees. The first few days you didn’t suffer when putting branches, as it didn’t give off so much heat, but when it got to the right temperature, it consumed a lot. You would throw a bundle of firewood and it was consumed in an instant. There weren’t even the ashes.
  • «It was incredible. About thirty bundles were consumed in three hours, so keep counting. When it reached 800 degrees, a black smoke came out, which was the gas let off by the calcareous stone. You had to dig, make holes in the top to regulate the good firing. A few days later, the white smoke suddenly came out and meant that the stone was already fired. The stones had melted, and the lower vault was well covered. It was the signal to stop putting firewood. Then it had to be cooled and the lime was removed from above. One batch used to be made every month. Those who took care of the fire earned a little more, as it was hard work. A good firing could only be spoiled when there were days of heavy rain in the middle of the day that reduced the temperature of the kiln.»

Souce: fragment from the article «En Joan de la calç», de Josep Vilar. Dossier Picapedrers, miners, calciners… Revista Les Garrotxes (no. 26 September 2020, p50-51)

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