[originally published in Mark Magazine #18]
Barcelona is a city without very many tall buildings. Not only that: the few tall buildings that do exist are spread relatively evenly throughout the metropolis, not unlike the way church steeples once dotted the landscape. While this gives each tall building plenty of elbow room and unobstructed views, it also makes each one seem overly precious and sacred. The problem here is that cities such as Barcelona can only continue to grow in the Z-axis, and if each new high-rise building has to be set apart from surrounding profanity and venerated as a holy artefact of sorts, then high-rise construction will always be the exception to the rule – not a transformation of it.
Hotel ME Barcelona, by Dominique Perrault, is the least object-like and most successful of the handful of spectacular recent high-rise additions to the Barcelona skyline. It is a role model for accommodating and integrating high-rise architecture in medium-rise urbanism. Rather than being situated in a clearing in the dense urban fabric, the 31-storey hotel incorporates a six-storey base containing semi-public spaces that is contiguous with neighbouring buildings. A tower containing the hotel’s private spaces emerges from this base by way of a dramatic upward lifting of one of its vertical sandwich slabs – such that nearly half the tower appears to be defying gravity. The space below the elevated slab forms a monumental entrance to the hotel while a setback formed near the top by this ‘lifting operation’ is used as an exclusive restaurant terrace. Similarly, a swimming pool and terrace occupy the setback atop the six-storey base. The hotel is thus much more complex at its lower levels than at its top; an inversion of the ‘ill-logic’ of the skyscraper as a stand-alone object.