Ohla Eixample Hotel - Cataluña Construction Awards 2018

At the 15th Catalonia Construction Awards ceremony held at the Construction Night organised by the Association of Surveyors, Technical Architects and Building Engineers of Barcelona (Colegio de Aparejadores de Barcelona CAATEEB), the rehabilitation of Ohla Eixample won honourable mention in the Functional Rehabilitation category for Albert Bordera and Daniel Isern.

We spoke with supervising architect Daniel Isern about the building's special characteristics, the new building technology used and the composition of its façade.

What challenges did you face in rehabilitating the Ohla Eixample hotel?

The main challenge we came up against in designing the project for the Ohla Eixample hotel was the rail tunnel just below the building. This meant we had to come up with highly innovative solutions to insulate the building from the vibrations caused by the passing trains.

Apart from this, the project posed the need to fit a new use inside an old office building with an existing structure. This meant we had to take drastic decisions regarding use, connections and traffic.

One of the greatest changes was reconfiguring the underground floors, which were originally designed for parking and divided into many very small, low-ceilinged floors. This had to be adapted to their new use as part of a hotel and where all the utilities are located.

On the above-ground floors, the aim was to create as many rooms as possible while maintaining the quality, comfort and finishings expected of a five-star hotel.

All without forgetting the huge responsibility that comes with designing a brand-new façade in the centre of Barcelona.

What was the biggest complication in terms of executing the project?

The greatest challenge of the works was putting in the seismic shock absorbers on each column on the ground floor to insulate the building from the vibrations of its immediate surroundings.

In order to do so, we had to shore up each column on each of the eight floors above in order to put in the shock absorber below and, then, calibrate them one by one to ensure proper distribution of the loads. And all of this right on top of the rail tunnel.

Another complication we faced in executing the project was to get all of the utilities to fit in the tight space available in the building. This meant we had to simplify and organise all the installations to leave as much free ceiling height as possible.

Where did the idea for the composition of the façade come from?

Traditionally, Barcelona's architecture has responded to hostile environments with enclosed balconies. These typically look out on the inner courtyards at the centre of the block to protect against the factories that filled these spaces with smoke, noise and smells.

This element has become an emotional trademark of the city that allows us to interpret this type of space without reconstructing it physically.

So, by using vertical or horizontal elements that bring a sense of dimension to the façade and screen out some of the exterior, we are evoking these traditional enclosed balconies.

Along with this compositional factor, we opted to bring this project to life with a material that is very traditional and local: ceramics. In opposition to the glass, high-tech façades that can be found in Barcelona's Eixample district, the ceramic pieces were conceived of as a material with ties to our past, yet that looks towards the future.

With this premise, we designed a ceramic façade that breaks up the scale of the building with extruded ceramic sheets created by Toni Cumella's studio. Each of them is unique, engraved with part of Max Richter's musical piece Vivaldi Recomposed, which just like the ceramic pieces reinterpreted a classical piece of music to transform it into a contemporary composition.

What machinery was used for the façade?

After each piece was extruded, it was put under a robotic arm with a triangular point. Then, the process began of engraving each of the pieces on both sides.

A mathematical algorithm transposed the frequencies of Max Richter's composition in deeper and shallower lines, depending on the intensity of each second of the musical piece. Following these criteria, the robot arm scratched unique lines into each piece that all begin and end in the same way so they could be put on the façade in any order, facilitating final assembly.

After each piece had been engraved, they were glazed with a semi-transparent varnish to protect the pieces from environmental agents.

Why is technology so important in construction?

The use of new technology in construction is essential not only in the building stage, but also the design process.

Applying pre-calculated parameters allows us to innovate in commonly used finishes, making them unique while also respecting tradition. And it is not just about innovation. Building technology also helps simplify the project, standardise building solutions and study the details.

Being able to visualise the finished product digitally allows us to verify the solutions used, more easily conveying the ideas posed and simplifying communication among all those involved.

New technology is more and more present in our daily lives, which is why it is important to take into account and make the most of the benefits it can contribute in building and design in order to move towards more effective, innovative and eco-friendly construction solutions.