A look back at Antoni Gaudi’s bold and magical design for Casa Batllo in Spain
by Devanshi ShahJun 24, 2021
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Zohra KhanPublished on : Aug 01, 2019
A 19th century warehouse, located in the Sant Antoni district of Barcelona, was once used to store bananas, but later came to bare the scars of a series of air raids during the Spanish Civil War. It was recently given a new lease of life by Spanish architect Valentí Albareda, who renovated the dwelling, sought inspiration from the crumbling building, its rugged stone walls, and a vaulted basement. The interiors were revamped by making these elements a basis to explore new necessities in the house.
The fact that the project began without a client gave the designer a certain freedom to reconfigure the space as he deemed fit. “The idea was to create flexible areas with four rooms that could be used by a family, a couple, or a single person, in different ways. Finally, a couple, she - a designer from Saudi Arabia, and he - an engineer from Ibiza, were the people who bought it,” says Albareda.
The approach was simple – it was to intervene in the closed and dark spaces with plenty of natural light and cross-ventilation, removing structural barriers and employing visual transparency by using local materials that lighten the penetrating opacity. “We wanted to recuperate the original structure like beam fills of bricks, while giving a new vision to it,” adds Albareda.
The project started with knocking down one of the existing vaults to lower the rear façade till the basement. This created a new internal courtyard at the back of the house, which let a generous spill of natural light in. Like a ‘light shaft’ decorated with a handful of potted plants, this unique corner is now accessed through twin arched openings.
The zoning of the three-storey structure offers maximum functionality and comfort. While the basement consists of a large bedroom, the ground floor is designed as a family space with areas for living, dining, and kitchen. A staircase connects the ground floor to the attic, which houses a studio, two bedrooms, a toilet and a bathroom. To counter the limited height of the ground floor, the designers removed a section of the attic floor slab and substituted it with clear glass, which when viewed from below, provides the ‘necessary amplitude’.
The elimination of overlapped skins left the original ornamentation of the structure bare, and the manual ceramic brick boards - known as rasilla - the basic material for the original structure, were used as the new coating for the bathroom and a new stairwell. Albareda feels that this intervention provides a careful and respectful action with the original nobility of this material, which in turn reinforces the building’s authenticity.
The encompassing homogeneity of warmer tones expressed through the use of exposed timber ceiling beams, wooden louvers at the entrance, oak parquet floors, and rough stone walls is balanced by elements like black-framed furniture, white plastered roofs, white cabinetry, white partitions, as well as occasional settings of indoor plants.
It could be said that the house looks like a reincarnation of its former self with a revived meaning, but its soul remains intact in the way the design comes together - from structure to surfaces, material to construction. Resonating the original iconography of the area, Sant Antoni, which is historically famous for its first covered food market that opened in 1882, and featured beautiful art nouveau architecture, iron shelters and an impressive octagonal roof, this project brings to life what was once bombed and scarred into darkness.
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