Top-Down Tower, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, by R+B Arquitectes

Social housing is among the most regulated–and least glamorous–areas of architecture. While all housing is normally subject to a set of minimum room dimensions, social housing is additionally governed by stringent maximum dimensions which happen to be almost equal to the minimum ones, leaving little margin for architectural maneuver. When, moreover, the building envelope is predetermined by a master plan, then little more than the façade and the entrance lobby are left for design consideration. Yet these two elements make a significant difference, as this 77 unit social housing tower by Barcelona’s R+B Architects shows.

Part of an urban master plan by Viaplana & Piñon for L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, the Plaça Europa apartment tower was designed, according to architect Miguel Roldán, “from the top-down”. What he really means here is that from the outset, the program was packed as densely as possible into the given building envelope descending from the top floor down, allowing the ground floor communal entrance lobby to become a larger interior street of sorts. On the exterior, three-story high groupings of deeply recessed windows give the fifteen story tower the appearance of containing only five floors, a nod to the traditional lower buildings nearby.

With its elegant façade and generous lobby-cum-interior street, it’s hard to believe this is social housing. R+B have certainly upped the ante with their top-down tower. The downside, however, is that housing regulators now have a new pretext for reducing the architectural margin even more.

[Originally published in Mark Magazine #27]

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

One comment

  1. I hardly belive that someone that wanders through L'Hospitalet's city center and ends up in front of this thing will gonna “feel it” or take it as a 5-storey building, only because of the recessed windows. That doesn't sound too convincing, especially if you've been, let's say, an hour in front, around or inside some “real” 5-storey buildings in the near Hospitalet's urban core.Or is this an “iconic gimmick”? What are they selling? false volume constriction?An overscaled abstraction -typical old-Coderch recycled randomized blinds, by the way- disguised as a “nod” to your neighbouring little building companions, is what in Catalan jargon is called “molt pillat”. I don't buy it (at least, not with that argument).If it's 15 stories, it's 15 stories. Any way you present it, me thinks.

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