A Barcelona housing co-op that had existed for less than a year when Spain imposed one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns has won a prestigious architecture award after its community living model thrived for the pandemic.
The wood-frame La Borda project of 28 apartments and several shared spaces won the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award for Emerging Architecture for a project that the awards committee described as “a transgressive model…based on the co-ownership and co-management of shared resources and capacities”.
The occupants had been there for barely a year when the lockdown hit, by which time the building’s communal plan really came into its own, says Cristina Gamboa, a leading figure in sustainability who, along with Pol Massoni, was the main architect.
Once it became clear that none of the occupants had Covid, it was possible to use the shared spaces – including a kitchen-dining room, laundry room, multi-purpose space, guest bedrooms. friends as well as patio, bicycle parking and terraces – to minimize the sort of isolation experienced by people living in more conventional accommodation.
“It was a privilege to experience Covid here,” says Gamboa. “It showed that these spaces allow for the kind of interaction that wouldn’t be possible in a conventional building. For example, guest rooms couldn’t be used because no one was traveling, so they became workspaces.
Unlike experiments in community living in London squats such as St Agnes Place and Villa Road in the 80s and 90s, which were carried out in family homes, La Borda is designed for the collective.
Since the lifting of the Covid restrictions, every Wednesday around two-thirds of the occupants gather for dinner in the communal dining room.
“La Borda is exemplary in terms of design for working from home, a rare thing in social housing,” says Frances Holliss, architect and author of Beyond Live/Work: the Architecture of Home-based Work. “Houses can be extended to include work space – on a different floor, if you prefer. The building is designed at every turn to increase social interaction and create community, which reduces social isolation – the bane of the home worker.
The La Borda project was born out of a local campaign to recover the abandoned industrial complex of Can Batlló in the Sants district of the city for the use of the community, which in turn gave birth to Lacol, a collective of young architects interested in the development of participatory projects.
Inspired by housing programs in Denmark and Uruguay, as well as 1970s figures such as Belgian architect Lucien Kroll, Gamboa and her colleagues at Lacol were driven by three principles: sustainability, participation and community.
“Our model is for accessible, non-speculative housing, but we also wanted to create something that was easy to replicate, not a gated community,” says Gamboa, who lives in the building.
The design, with its large interior patio and skylight, recalls the “corral” concept common in Madrid and southern Spain, where the central space serves as both a meeting place and natural air conditioning. .
The wooden construction allows the apartments to be adaptable while improving insulation and minimizing environmental impact.
“It’s a passive building with active participants,” says Gamboa.
Co-op members, who range from people in their twenties to retirees, do not own their apartments and cannot sell or pass them on. Rent and cost of living are about 30-35% below market rates.
Solar panels supply electricity to the common areas while a common laundry room reduces bills and frees up living space.
Potential members pay a refundable fee of €18,500 (£15,485), but with 50 people already on the waiting list, Gamboa says the only solution is to build more.
Only 1.5% of Barcelona’s housing stock is public and the rest is increasingly out of reach for most pockets, especially young people, so around 80% of 18-30 year olds still live in their homes. their parents.
Gamboa says winning the Mies van der Rohe Prize was a surprise, adding that “it’s great to see other ways of doing architecture rewarded”.
Part of the €20,000 prize money will go to a celebratory dinner for the occupants and others involved in making the project a reality.