Casa de les Punxes. Barcelona

Urban Land Institute · Winner Excellence Award Europe 2004

La Casa Terrades, locally known as the “Casa de les Punxes”, or “House of Spikes”, is a closed, irregular shaped block in Barcelona’s Eixample district. Josep Puig i Cadafalch built it in 1905. It is a large building defined by three main circular towers on the corners, where his interest in central European gothic architecture can be clearly seen. Puig i Cadafalch encouraged young architects of the time to look once again to the architecture of the Middle Ages, a period he believed to be a never-ending source of the formal repertory that Catalonia needed. His work was incorporated into the Modernist current with a combination of a varied repertory of medieval motifs and others motifs which stemmed from the craftsmen’s tradition.

The block is structured around three main residents’ staircases, with two dwellings per floor, it followed the social stratification of the buildings of the period, with shops and commercial premises on the ground floor, the first floor, known as the principal with the finest examples of the apartments of the day, housed the wealthier upper classes, and then there were the typical apartments of the middle, bourgeoisie classes, moving up towards the rooftops which were used to dry clothes and house small storerooms.

Over time the roof, where the spires are, was colonised by cubicles used as dwellings for the concierges, larger storage areas or places to store old furniture, all very precarious structures.

Our project here consisted, in the first place, in restoring the communal areas of the Casa de les Punxes and refurbishing the apartments into offices. All of those elements of patrimonial importance, which over time had been worn out, hidden or simply eliminated, have been recovered, and the technical equipment considered essential for today’s offices of quality has also been installed. The large rooms behind the façades have been refurbished and are now work areas, and the chambers around the interior courtyards have been made into utility spaces, such as kitchen and bathroom areas etc.

We then refurbished the top floor, making it into dwellings, studios and areas for technical installations. The constructions that filled the interior terrace around the perimeter of the top floor were demolished, and various spires have been made into studios and dwellings. All of the technical equipment normally found on rooftops in Spain, such as TV antennas, was placed inside some of the smaller spires, leaving the roof terrace as a communal area accessing the studios and flats.

There were no defined ideas for the top floor, and even after we had built up our proposal there was still nothing that could be recognised as such. We did the project as children might, playing with building toys, we “read” each element, studying how we might best use it, and trying out different combinations. Working in this way, room by room, the results were totally unexpected. There isn’t even one overall sketch of the project. The way we worked on the project has conferred it with a kind of labyrinth–like quality, a profundity in time and space which has given it a totally cotemporary feel. There are flats, offices, even an art gallery in there.