Community centre – Territori 24 – Spain

Ultra-efficient civic centre in Barcelona – Sander Laudy (ES) – Photography: Adrià Goula

The global carbon emissions from buildings would probably continue to increase for many years to come if using expensive, certified materials and technologically advanced installations was all it took to guarantee sustainable architecture. However, examples like the Baró de Viver community centre prove that all is not lost yet. This project by Territori 24 architects, with a budget of a mere €1000 per square metre, obtained a LEED Platinum classification, in spite, or possibly even because of this.

As Adría Calvó and Ivan Pérez walk through the central corridor of the single-storey building, they explain how their firm was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2011 as a result of the financial crisis. During a meeting to discuss the seemingly inevitable liquidation of the company, Adrià happened to check his email and let out a cry: they had won the competition for the design of the community centre. The business was saved! They decided to seize this opportunity and turn it into a really ambitious project, and proposed a LEED assessment to the client (the City of Barcelona), for which they would try to achieve the highest possible certification without spending a single euro more than budgeted.

The number of LEED-certified buildings is continually increasing, even in Spain, where the crisis continues to linger. However, almost all of these buildings are monumental cultural institutions and luxurious office or apartment buildings. This constitutes a serious problem with regard to the claims of sustainable building. If sustainability – in terms of materials, energy, and use – is limited to property developers and users ‘who can afford it’ (i.e., if sustainability turns out to be something exclusive), then the bulk of architecture will continue to be just as polluting as it has been to date, with terrible consequences in terms of carbon footprints.

As a result, the challenge for Territori 24 consisted of proving that sustainability is always feasible, also in a modest area like Baró de Viver, and for a function for which the city would only provide a small budget. In previous projects they had already intuitively tried to minimize the ecological impact of their designs. Now, however, they would need to prove this with real calculations. ‘These energy simulations honed our intuition,’ says Pérez, indicating that their starting point was naturally common sense. Every design decision was reconsidered three times, and ultimately economics and ecology reinforced each other. ‘We managed to free up funds for investments in specific installations by reducing the building’s energy consumption with passive techniques,’ adds Calvó. ‘As a result, energy consumption was reduced even more, which in turn allowed us to… well, you get the picture!’

The whole building is all about efficiency. The simple floor plan is orthogonal and compact, and the functionalities have been purposefully positioned in specific locations. The use of pretensioned hollow-core slabs for the roof means that the architects were able to maintain a large distance between the prefab concrete columns. As a result, the foundation in this poor soil became cheaper. After thinking about things logically, they decided not to insulate the floor, because it could be used instead for heat dissipation. This is definitely an advantage, given the building’s occupancy levels and the associated internal heat loads. In Barcelona, cooling accounts for more energy consumption during the year than heating. The prefab concrete facade elements with insulation and the grass roof together provide the required thermal mass to counter the cursed heat peaks.

Red paint is no more expensive than white paint. In that respect, it is also very efficient for achieving a major impact with graphic resources. Titles are projected in perspective on the walls, and coloured windows were installed in strategic places in the building. The electrical conduits for the lighting in the community hall have become a decorative feature in the roughly finished building, and blend in harmoniously with the curtains that hang in this hall as flexible partitions. Sculptural Solatube tubular daylight devices ensure that the light in the hall almost never needs to be switched on.

The project has generated new activity in this small, fairly inaccessible neighbourhood on the northern fringe of Barcelona. The vegetable garden on the south side (which provides shade for the facade, along with the vines and ivy) is just about the only green space in this neighbourhood. Since the building’s opening, it has become clear that residents are proud of this new, sustainable addition to their neighbourhood. Does this mean Baró de Viver has actually gained an attraction? The caretaker takes a photo of a group of visitors, and his remark speaks volumes: ‘Nobody ever used to come here!’