Pedro Mata Mental Asylum


Carretera de l’Institut Pere Mata, Reus

Sociedad Anónima Manicomio de Reus



In 1896 a public limited society was founded by Doctor Emili Briansó called Manicomio de Reus (Reus Mental Asylum), composed of thirty-five shopkeepers, white-collar professionals, proprietors and industrialists who intended to build a psychiatric hospital in Reus (Tarragona). The design of the new hospital was commissioned from Domènech i Montaner, in keeping with the principles of hygiene and hospital architecture of the period. By then, Domènech had already attained prestige thanks to his built works and his political connections with several members of the new society. In order to establish the criteria that would govern the construction of the ambitious new hospital, a working committee was set up formed by Domènech, Pere Casellas (the municipal architect of Reus), and renowned Barcelona psychiatrists Artur Galceran Granés and Rafael Rodríguez Méndez. In 1897, the project to erect the building on a large plot of land measuring around twenty hectares on the outskirts of Reus was presented. The hospital was designed as a group of eighteen pavilions, arranged in the form of a small garden city. The building work began in 1898, but the construction advanced in stages due to financial difficulties. Not all the pavilions initially designed were eventually built, and a number of changes and alterations were introduced. Most of the supervision of the work was carried out by Domènech i Montaner’s son, Pere Domènech Roura, with the help of Pere Casellas.

In the town-planning ensemble specified in the original project, each pavilion fulfilled a specific function or accommodated specific patients (separated by sex, social status or illness). The huge site was divided by two axes: a north-south longitudinal axis that separated the pavilions of men and women, and an east-west perpendicular axis that opened up to the entrance, opposite which was the administrative pavilion. The secondary access and the chapel were located on the longitudinal axis, while the general services building with its huge thirty-metre high water tower was located on the intersection of the two axes. The pavilions were intended to distinguish between the sick, not only in terms of sex but also in terms of economic situation. From south to north, the layout was for first-class, second-class and third-class inpatients, and once past the perpendicular axis, poor, epileptic and infectious inpatients, an infirmary and a small morgue. Even though each pavilion had its own shape according to its specific needs, the use of the same materials and constructional finishes – the stone base, the face-brick walls decorated with sculptural stone elements and blue and white ceramic soffits, and the gable roofs covered in ceramic tiles – gave the design an overall harmony. It was considered that the decoration formed a part of the medical treatment, given the positive influence of beauty on the psyche. The pavilions had private gardens that were reserved for the patients of each building, while the outdoor spaces and the two long avenues were lined with trees. The hospital complex was encircled by an opaque wall, although to prevent the patients feeling they were locked up, the enclosing wall was built on a slope leading to an embankment, guaranteeing the security of the premises and preserving the views of the surrounding landscape.

Today, the ensemble preserves its original function and is run by the Pere Mata Foundation that works to protect and help people affected by mental disorders, disabilities or special needs. Only the Pavilion of the Distinguished can be visited, after having been completely renovated to recover its original splendour.

The Pavilion of General Services stood at the intersection between the two axes ordering the design of the project. As its name suggests, at first it was supposed to accommodate the services the mental asylum required in its ground-floor buildings and the great water tower. Yet by the time the building work began, it was decided that it should also provisionally accommodate the rooms of the Administration Pavilion, as there were not enough funds to build the planned monumental structure. This explains why Domènech presented a new design for this building, adding two further floors to the central body in the eastern section that would be destined to offices and dwellings. The construction began with the perforation of a well, where a sufficient flow of water was found at a depth of sixty metres, slightly deviated as regards its foreseen course, making it necessary to vary the position of the building to a certain extent given that the tower was supposed to lie on the axis of the well.

The ground plan of the building is shaped like an H, with two rectangular structures at east and west, and a perpendicular nave that connects them to the water tower in the centre. The eastern section accommodated administrative and residential activities. To the right was the office of the managing doctor, the hydrotherapy and electrotherapy services, the laboratory and the dispensary. To the left were the offices of the consulting doctors and the former chapel. The upper floor comprised the residence of the managing doctor and that of the religious administrator. The façade is monumental, and has an entrance door with a Tudor arch flanked by rampant lions, eagles with feline bodies on the corners and a protective angel on a huge stone balcony in the middle section. The rose of Reus, floral motifs and symbolic representations are repeated on the blue and white ceramic soffits. The back of the western section accommodated the general services (kitchen, laundry, boiler room and pantry) and the necessary chimneys that gave it an industrial look. A large buried deposit measuring 10 metres in width acted as a cistern to make the most of the surplus water from the deposit atop the tower. The huge water tower rose up thirty metres and became a representative symbol of the mental asylum. The face-brick tower was crowned by the deposit, covered in white ceramic with brick pilasters and enhanced by trilobate stone gable vents. The tower rested on an octagonal base set in a square ground plan. The ground-floor section reproduced the double-leafed wall that Domènech had used in the Café-Restaurant, and accommodated the staircase. At the circular tower, the staircase became helical, crossing the deposit through the annular floor and reaching the roof.

The interior spaces have suffered many alterations, particularly when Domènech Roura refurbished them in 1923, and then in 1928, when a second floor was added to the side sections in order to gain space. Over the years, the areas between the various sections on the ground floor have welcomed further construction, significantly altering the outer appearance of the building. Today the pavilion is still used for administrative purposes.

Chronology of the most significant interventions:

At each side of the perpendicular axis stood the pavilions destined for third-class inpatients and those that treated charity patients. The first to be built, between 1898 and 1902, were those for men that initially accommodated all types of patients. The first charity pavilion and those for third-class inpatients followed the same design, which was repeated in a second charity pavilion for women, built between 1910 and 1912.

These buildings had a ground floor, a first floor and a space under the gabled roof. The ground plan consisted of a longitudinal body from which emerged three rectangular units, one at each end and a smaller one in the middle. The ground floor contained the main entrance with the central staircase and the communal areas for daytime use, such as the sitting room and dining room, while the upper floor contained the dormitories. The surveillance rooms, from where a total of five different spaces could be monitored, were situated between the longitudinal and the perpendicular bodies. These rooms also contained the electrical mains switches and the water stopcocks to prevent the patients from turning them on or off. The windows, the latticework on the façade and the chimneys ensured the bedrooms were well ventilated, as the air circulated up to the roofs. These three forms of ventilation have been well studied in contemporary articles. The composition of the façades was that of the ensemble: stone bases, face-brick walls, ornamental stone elements and blue and white ceramic panels. The back façade looked on to a garden reserved to the inpatients of each building, and on the first floor had corbel terraces.

Today these buildings are still in use as hospital wards and cannot be visited.

Chronology of the most significant interventions:

The first-class inpatients building (today the Pavilion of the Distinguished) was intended to be an important source of income for the institution, yet the high cost of its construction meant it had to be built in stages. In 1900 construction began at one end of the building that came into use in 1902 and was known as the north villa, being as it was an isolated building in the middle of the garden. In 1903 work began at the other end, which was completed in 1905 and was called the south villa. Finally, the central, body began to be erected in 1905 and was completed in 1908.

This building was larger than the other pavilions, for it had a semi-basement floor, a ground floor and three storeys. The structure had load-bearing walls made of brick and wrought-iron beams. Only the great double-height common rooms on the ground floor had profusely decorated flat brick vaults, an experiment that Domènech would repeat in Sant Pau Hospital. The loft was also covered by vaults but was devoid of decoration as it was originally supposed to accommodate the facilities, although it was eventually fitted out for use as bedroom space. The façades were more profusely decorated than the other parts of the buildings, with huge ceramic panels, stained-glass windows and high quality applied sculpture. The decorative elements included a wide range of plant motifs, among which the rose of Reus featured prominently. The main façade, that encompassed the entrance for carriages and the pavilion of General Services, had a symbolic function. Large windows lit the interior double-height noble spaces. The rear façade, on the other hand, was more private in nature and less decorated. It had wide galleries that could be opened to become terraces, a porch on the ground floor and a terrace in the upper area.

The layout and interior finishes reproduced bourgeois interiors of the period: entrance, hall, playroom, office, dining room, library, dormitories, and a darkroom for developing photographs. Everything was designed and profusely decorated in the modernista or Art Nouveau style in vogue at the time, in keeping with the social status of the dwellers: ceramic paving, mosaic, stained glass, woodwork, furniture, stucco work, sgraffito, skylights, etc. The central entrance hall provided access to the staircase that communicated all the floors, with ceramic banisters yet no handrails for security reasons. The communal areas were on the ground floor, the dormitories on the two upper floors and the facility areas on the top floor. The most impressive space was the hall, with an interior balcony that connected it to adjacent rooms. Its balusters with glass shafts resembling those in Barcelona’s Palace of Music concert hall drew attention to the first floor; the filtered natural light entered through coloured stained-glass windows.
In this pavilion the bedrooms, laid out length-wise, were individual instead of communal, and the common bathrooms and lavatories were located at each end of the galleries. The rooms on the first floor were grouped in threes around a hall where the watchman stood stood at his post and where visitors were received. In the end bodies, initially occupied by the villas, the rooms were more luxurious, accommodating one patient per floor, with a private bedroom, dining room, bathroom and surveillance service.

This pavilion has been refurbished and can now be visited.

Chronology of the most significant interventions:

The lack of space produced by the growing number of inpatients led to the decision to move the laundry. This new pavilion, not originally foreseen, was built between 1911 and 1912 alongside those devoted to charity and epileptic patients, where the men’s infirmary and the pavilion for infectious patients were initially supposed to stand. The washing and disinfection of clothes and linen was performed with a special stove, after which they were dried, ironed and stored.
The architectural typology of the laundry prefigured the solution subsequently used in the cooperative wineries throughout Catalonia (first employed by Pere Roura at the Cooperative Winery in Espluga de Francolí in 1913) and known as Wine Cathedrals. The building’s structure was a rectangular nave with seven pointed diaphragm arches of brick openwork that supported a gabled roof. The inclined pilasters on the façade were connected by segmental arches. The upper part of the areas of wall between the pilasters had large windows and the natural light that entered the building was intensified by the light that streamed through the large window in the southern façade that is now blinded. The building has no decorative ceramic work.
For some time it was used to stage plays and other theatrical performances. When a theatre proper was built on the premises, that area of the pavilion lost its specific function and a part of it was fitted out as a chapel designed by Domènech Roura.
Today the vacant space is used to hold occupational workshops.

Chronology of the most significant interventions:

Over the years, Domènech i Montaner would gradually delegate greater responsibility to his son. Pere Domènech, who had obtained his degree in 1904, began to work on this project in 1906, carrying out regular site visits, as proved by existing documents, and acting as a liaison with industrialists. After his father’s death in 1923, he began to design new buildings such as the homes of the assistant medical director and of the permanent priest of the asylum, the extension of the first floor of the Pavilion of General Services and the 1930 Plan of Expansion of the mental asylum, among other structures.


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