The Estel building by Francesc Mitjans is one of those building that you’ve been hearing about for many years, either by your professors, by developers or even by friends whom asked, “what’s that tall grey building in Av Roma Street?” It hasn’t been until we’ve managed to strip it down to its core (and beyond) that we’ve been able to grasp the genius behind many of the details within the building.
Originally conceived to be the home to all the phone company equipment Telefonica and as such built to project the image of industrialization and progress that Barcelona was experiencing in the 1950’s, not only its appearance responded to the zeitgeist of the moment it was also a direct response to the program (much like the motto from Louis Sullivan “…form follows function…”)
After more than 40 years being the “brains” behind all the phone communications in Barcelona, new technology and a better profitability of the plot pushed Telefonica to sell their iconic building to be transformed into residential units.
From then on, several vicissitudes we were commissioned to pick up all the history of the building from Mitjans project up to great local architectural offices proposals such as GCA, and combine them into a fully new, state of the art building that exudes character as did the original asset.
It is during this process that we keep on finding/unveiling the solutions left hidden by Mitjans to be found by whomever took the challenge after him, and many of those we’ve kept, interpreted and used in the current proposal.
Stylizing vertical lines.
When approached to be inquired for the Estel building many people start by saying “…. that tall building….” (taking into account Barcelona’s average height 50m is considered high-rise) Surprisingly enough the building is twice as wide (100m) as it is tall (50m). How is it that we never have the impression that is a rather chubby building? this is probably one of the most surprising design details applied by Mitjans back in the day. The bird shaped layout and the ribs of the old façade made it so you’d never be able to see the building as a full flat elevation, always perceiving a partial section, changing its proportion from horizontal to vertical, moreover the ribs that gave you the appearance that were structural, were merely a matter of design, not hiding any of the load bearing structure of the building.
We’ve taken advantage of this path lead by the original project and kept the ribs, and by setting them back on the ground floor we’ve achieved not only the same stylizing of the building but also the feeling that its lifted form the ground floor making the entrance to the podium much more welcoming on top of that this solution has also allowed us to be more honest towards the observer where we’ve clearly showed that the ribs are not essential for the structural stability of the building although essential for the integration, aesthetics and perception of the exterior of the Estel building.
Form Follows Function – Chicago school
The façade designed in the 1950’s was a response to the use that was taking place inside, machinery needed a high amount of air cooling, weather protection and noise reduction towards the neighbours, Mitjans opted for a façade composed by aluminium fins which were rarely moved and complied with the requirement aforementioned. Nowadays the use that’s going to be contained in the building is quite different, so are the requirements but to some extent the solution is similar, fixed aluminium fins will define the façades that are more affected by the sun so the residential units are protected from the weather outside (sounds familiar….) and it also as it did originally, unifies both façades (Av Roma & Mallorca).
Although Mitjans already took into account its surroundings (especially obvious the Level 7 height difference to mark the standard roof level of the eixample) it’s also true that neither the use nor the zeitgeist of the time compelled the buildings to be fully open to the neighbours.
Nowadays the keep the traces of Mitjans willingness to make the building part of the surroundings and we push the boundaries well beyond that, the podium levels, ground floor, level 1 and basement are full accessible to the public, areas are open for the whole neighbourhood to enjoy, moreover with the current proposal the building is no longer a wall between the inhabitants of Mallorca street and Av Roma, it welcomes them to cross through and enjoy the new pedestrian and park area to be built in Av Roma.