Biblioteca Poblenou

Leo Wan, Grigori Khachatryan
SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture
United States of America

Project idea

The studio introduces the comprehensive design and development of a large scale, building on an urban site and focuses on the design, development, and tectonic logic of the building envelope and its ability to articulate contemporary formal organisations.

The studio works on an architectural project in Barcelona, a place of real as well as fabricated histories and imagined futures, where the grids of Cerdá meet the medieval fabric of the Gothic Quarter. Layered, complex and resonant with the depth of Catalonian history, the larger metropolis has evolved historically to produce sites and situations filled with the normative and the aberrant, the conventional and the adventurous, often at the same time. It is a city that is both ancient and intensely contemporary, animated by a vivacious culture that belongs to the larger nation-state yet steadfastly maintains its regional independence and the autonomy of its unique culture. It can be argued that any city is an accumulation of architectural effects, both planned and unplanned, driven by the interaction of its inhabitants. As the product of a diverse set of forces, this accumulation both reflects and manifests multiple contexts. Working on one of three different sites in the city, studio will mine this multiplicity of contexts to design architecture that reveals and provokes them, enabling new ways to understand and use the city. In the end we seek to transform a situation by fully embracing both what is there and what might become. It is incumbent on each team to engage the city; on what fronts and to what degree remains a question.

Project description

Our project is located in Poblenou. As has been described, the site is primarily in a residential zone of three and four story housing blocks. Remnants of the Cerdá grid organize the urban structure of this area. Historically the area was home to smaller factories and manufacturing; chimneys from the era of steam engines can still be seen on the site. An existing, four story factory building was adaptively reused in 2009 to become a neighborhood scale library and community center.

The point of departure for our project begins from a macro view of the city. Expanding the initial frame that might describe context, we chose to look at larger maps and morphological organizations of the city. Probably the most iconic plan form unique to Barcelona is the eight sided block of Cerdá. But beyond the repetitive nature of this closed geometric form, interruptions and exceptions abound. Diagonals, alleys, occupations, short-cuts, odd-shaped plazas and borders with the Gothic, more Medieval fabric of Barcelona produce a strong, almost graphic overlay of lines and zones. This accretion of inlays and interruptions describe a kind of urban texture more truthful to the intensity of this city.

We have sampled this cacophony of marks and mapped it onto the surface of a simple, rectilinear building volume that levitates over the existing Biblioteca Poblenou Manuel Arranz. Rather that demolish and rebuild the existing library, we chose to complement it from above, more than doubling the floor area in order to accommodate the increased size of the new, city library. The new building contrasts the old with a gradient that moves from dark and dense to light and sparse as one moves towards the top. The marks on the surface were transformed to 2.5 and 3 dimensional volumes and surfaces, subdividing the mass into a tectonic envelope and making apertures that open the top floor reading areas to natural light.

A macro reading of context, along with its translation into architectural qualities and elements produces a response that makes one aware of other frames of reference and reading of the city. The ubiquitous familiarity with maps and arial views enabled by phones and mapping apps has allowed us to see cities in ways that are beyond the first person encounter found on the street. As a new form of perception, the interest of the project was to collapse two very different scales of understanding.

Technical information

The building is made of concrete and structural steel with a precast concrete panel envelope system. Visitors enter the building along two different paths that converge at a sunken lobby at the interior of the block. The library is organized vertically, with stacks, storage and infrastructure at the lower levels, with reading and more public areas above. Like Herzog and de Meuron’s Caixa Forum in Madrid, the new building seeks to complement and almost work as a double to the old. The conventional entry has been replaced by a linear ramp that takes one into the earth before moving up into the new building, exaggerating the sense of ascension.

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