27 Social dwellings for young people in Barcelona

This project for twenty-seven low-rent dwelling units for young people was a result of a competition for architects under 40 years of age, organised in 2003 by the Catalonian Architect's Association (COAC) and the Catalonian Government.

all photographs: © José Hevia

The brief called for six units (5 of 40m2 of net usable area for 1 or 2 persons and one of 50m2 for 2-3 people) per storey, to be accommodated in an odd shaped site located in Sant Andreu, Barcelona.

The resulting units are 44m2 (for 1-2 persons) and 51m2 (for 2-3 persons).

Our approach to the project was to work from inside out, carefully considering the spatial qualities and adjacencies of the interior spaces, an aspect we feel is not given enough attention currently in social housing.

We intended for the places of transition between interior and exterior to become thick boundaries composed of small scale buffer zones or «almost-rooms» providing the dwelling with a richer variety of spaces.

Natural cross ventilation and abundant daylight in all spaces is guaranteed by the interior distribution and by having two opposite facades. Taking advantage of the mild weather in Barcelona, entry from the street to the apartments is made from an open walkway located on the back façade of the building overlooking a typical Barcelona interior court.

The kitchen and bathroom are located adjacent to this façade while the main living spaces are on the opposite south-eastern façade facing the street, in order to comply with the local eco-efficiency decree that demands that 80% of the dwellings have at least 1 hour of direct sunlight in the living room from 10:00am to 2 pm in winter solstice.

Acting as a buffer zone between the street and the living room space, and recuperating a Barcelonan tradition, there is a small gallery space between two glazed enclosures that acts as a sunroom providing passive solar heat gain in the winter. In the summer, by means of the overhang that protects it from the high sun, it becomes a balcony when opening the exterior glass louvers and closing the interior folding glass doors.

Adjacent to the living area and separated by large sliding doors, is an elongated bedroom. On the bedroom’s street façade side, an alcove-like space is generated by the depth of the sunroom. In this space within the sleeping area, a smaller window with movable opaque louvers protects and filters the southern light according to user’s desires and needs. Its central position provides two corners which allow it to be furnished with closets or a desk on either side. It could be used as a sleeping nook as well, freeing up the rest of the bedroom for other uses.

The bedroom connects to the bathroom, which is buffered from the public access walkway by a space for washing and drying clothes. This space, enclosed by fibrocement panels and galvanized metal louvers, invades the width of the public access walkway, generating a recessed space where the entry door (which opens towards the outside) is located.

This widening of the walkway is intended to be a small terrace-like space adjacent to the kitchen that people can appropriate as an extension of their apartment, stimulating social interaction and neighbourly communication. The wall separating the kitchen and this terrace houses all utility ducts in order to make them easily accessible for maintenance, but also to give the window sill an exaggerated depth so that it becomes a 60cm galvanised metal shelf, unobstructed when the double hung window is open, that serves to place and pass food and beverages right from the kitchen to a table outside.

Given the low budget and the fact that the units are for rent, the materials chosen are both durable and economical and their detailing was kept as simple and easy to execute as possible.

A 2,70m ceiling height in all spaces of all units was accomplished.

Main materials are: Terrazzo floors, galvanized metalwork, painted semi-prefab concrete slabs, fibrocement panels, glazed brick, traditional render with mineral silicate paint.

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