[Originally published in Azure, October 2013]
Gràcia, with its narrow streets and the atmosphere of the former village still intact, is Barcelona’s most popular ‘hood. Its annual festa major, a week-long party held every August, outdoes all of the other neighbourhoods with the sheer energy and creativity of its street decorations, which are crafted during the rest of the year by armies of volunteers out of thousands of discarded plastic bottles and several metric tons of papier-mâché.
Fronting carrer de Còrsega, on the border between Gràcia and the more modern Eixample district, Generator Barcelona occupies a refurbished 1960s office building that has been transformed into a hostel and hotel by the Toronto firm Design Agency. With its 646 beds, the hostel —Barcelona’s largest— takes up the bulk of the floor plates, while the one-star hotel occupies the uppermost levels, taking advantage of building setbacks to provide most of the 40 hotel rooms with private terraces overlooking the city. The inclusion of a hotel allows Generator to circumvent a local bylaw forbidding bars in hostels, but it also generates a wide mix of uses and spaces within a single edifice.
Generator now has eight design hostels operating in Europe, and plans to open more. Since 2010, Design Agency partner Anwar Mekhayech has been setting the creative direction for the entire chain, which he says “needs to provide both memorable destinations for travelers as well as places neighbours might find appealing.”
The novelty of Generator Barcelona’s flagship is precisely the incorporation of two different types of tourist accommodation within a single building.In theory, the hostel and the hotel each have their own entrances, reception areas and elevators, but in practice their social spaces are permeable to all guests, which makes them complement each other. The hotel lobby lounge and the hostel reception atrium are adjoined by a tapas bar, a recreational mezzanine with a library and games, and a large basement breakfast room that doubles as a divisible event-space. Each zone offers a different ambiance: loud or quiet, bright or subdued, vast or intimate. As Mekhayech explains, “We wanted to allow for different energy levels between the spaces.”
Generator’s rooms are also diverse. Hostel rooms, from doubles and triples for small groups, to four-, six-, eight-, and ten-bed shared dormitories –are extremely minimalist in the functionalist sense of the word, only equipped with bunkbeds, lockers for storing valuables, and personal reading lights with plugs for recharging electronics. On the other hand, the hotel rooms, designed for two, are minimalist in the aesthetic sense of the word, with a selection of arty furnishings and decorative objects that imbue them with personality. While the bathrooms in the hostel dorms are compartmentalized so that the shower, toilet and sink may be used simultaneously without compromising privacy, the hotel’s more luxurious ensuite bathrooms contain all sanitary fixtures within a single, more hedonistic space.
Generator attracts a diverse, international crowd that ranges from solo backpackers, student groups, and young families seeking simple, functional accommodation to empty-nesters who prefer to travel in style. A sense of cohesion is created in the interior through a strategy of creative reuse. Discarded wire spools become lounge tables or circular bookshelf columns when stacked up to the ceiling; mechanical parts from the old elevators adorn the bar furniture; and raw concrete columns are left exposed, with all the scrapes and marks from previous renovations. This informality, coupled with local artists’ interventions, such as the playful lanterns in the hotel lounge, capture the creative spirit of the festa de Gràcia, extending its glow throughout the year.