The process of La Borda begins in 2012 in the framework of the campaign to reclaim the brown site of Can Batlló, where a group of neighbors decides to self-organize to solve collectively the need for access to housing. This small group started the implementation of a housing cooperative based on the right of use.
The cooperative of architects Lacol has been involved since the beginning of the promotion, driven by the motivation to build an alternative in a context of serious housing crisis in Barcelona. This engagement becomes an opportunity to rethink the production of popular housing, from the bottom-up and with the participation of future users.
This text describes those characteristics of the process of promotion of the housing cooperative La Borda that have marked the approach and development of the architectural project.
Characteristics of the promotion in the project
La Borda's commitment to a community model opposed to the more traditional public or private promotions has made it possible to overcome some major limitations that are imposed on architectural projects. In the public sector, the fear of the future user, which is totally unknown, makes it impossible to introduce changes that may affect the way of living standardized. In the case of the private developers, the logic of the market that impoverish housing are imposed to facilitate their assimilation to a consumer object.
The innovation of the development process has been key to work the architecture beyond its formalization. We identify five characteristics of this model that have a direct response in the project: self-promotion, right of use, community life, sustainability and affordability.
The members of the cooperative and future users are those who guide, control and develop the entire development process through an internal structure that fosters direct participation, using work commissions and a monthly general assembly. The cooperative only has the support of technical teams specialized in tasks that can not be assumed by their members.
The involvement of future users is one of the greatest singularities and potentialities for the development of the architectural project, since it is usually the great unknown in all collective housing projects, and it becomes the starting point of the project.
The exhaustive knowledge of the future inhabitant and his real needs has challenged the pre-established types of user patterns and the regulations regarding housing, to adapt any decision to the specific requirements of the cooperative.
The active participation of the user has been integrated in all phases: design, construction and management of the building. The future inhabitant participates in the collaborative design of the whole of the building through thematic workshops that allow taking advantage of the collective intelligence of the human group, and co-responsible the user of the decisions of the project. These processes increase awareness and training and stimulate the feeling of community and belonging.
2 Right of Use and Collective Ownership
The cooperative is the owner of the building, built on a site of public ownership, and assigns the right to use the housing to its members. In this model of alternative ownership opposed to private property, the value is put solely in the use of the house, and not in its exchange value in the market, to avoid speculative uses.
The fact of placing the value of use and the collective in the center has led us to think of the building as an open infrastructure where its own use is what ends up configuring the architecture in time, adapted to the evolution of the community and the changing needs of the users. The management of the building will be carried out by the same community.
The common infrastructure (support) is defined from a homogeneous matrix of domestic units (16 m²) that generates a non-hierarchical housing type that can be appropriated for each user through freely adopted decisions (components).
3 Community Life
La Borda wants to promote more community-friendly forms of coexistence that enhance the interrelation between the people living through community spaces, and establish cooperative links in the field of domestic work and care by making visible the private spheres of everyday life. The building of La Borda contemplates 25% of the surface constructed for common spaces, unlike conventional multifamily buildings where it is usually about 10% and where they are reduced to the traffic spaces to connect the street with the door of each housing. It has a communal kitchen of 80 m² where you can make large meals or become a meeting point, a multipurpose space covered with 100 m², two rooms for guests, a laundry room, a large central circulation space, bicycle parking, and outdoor terraces.
These community spaces have a triple function. On the one hand, provide the building with meeting spaces where the relationship between users and generate spaces in the middle of the public outdoor space and the most private space of the houses. Economize resources, making certain infrastructures not be multiplied by 28 homes, but can be centralized by improving economic and environmental sustainability. At the same time, it allows to increase the surface that can be used by all the members, who are able to enjoy with the same total surface and the same cost of many more spaces than in a conventional development.
This premise opens up the possibility of rethinking the collective housing program to adapt it to the life model imagined by future users. It breaks with the scheme of the building as a result of the sum of individual units, to understand it as a single shared house where the boundary between the private space and the community is blurred.
The cooperative prioritized making a building with minimal environmental impact, both in its construction and its lifetime. Another basic objective is to eliminate the possibility of energy poverty among its users, which some of them suffered due to the high cost of energy and lack of economic resources. The initial strategy of the project to reduce energy demand has been the optimization of the program, renouncing the underground car parking, grouping services and reducing the surface of the houses.
At the design level, the maximum bioclimatic parameters have been introduced to achieve a very passive building, with solutions that involve active action by users in the climate management of housing. The result is an almost zero energy consumption, and therefore, the comfort in the houses with the least associated cost.
The first action to significantly reduce the environmental impact of the building was to not conduct underground parking for cars. Only direct impacts on construction and use at 75 years will allow savings of between 500 and 800 tonnes of CO2. In addition, this strategy entails a direct benefit in sustainable mobility and in reducing the ecological footprint of the inhabitants.
The structure of six floors is done using Cross Laminated Timber wood (CLT). This is a lightweight, high quality, renewable material in the environment that allows closing cycles, unlike conventional construction materials such as steel or concrete, whose production has a very high energy cost and are not renewable. La Borda is currently the highest building constructed using wood structure in Spain.
With regard to the reduction of demand, on the one hand, the surfaces of homes that need high comfort have been reduced and transferred part of the community spaces where the demand associated with the comfort is more discretionary. The passive bioclimatic strategies have been developed to the fullest extent possible. Firstly, the patio covered with a greenhouse that allows to capture solar radiation in winter and have a chimney effect designed to force ventilation in the summer. The design also included a good tightness to the air of doors and windows, working with the inertia of the materials and an emphasis on the thermal insulation.
La Borda also has a centralized system for thermal generation for hot water and air conditioning by means of a biomass boiler, allowing optimization of the production infrastructure and improving performance and technology at the service of the entire building. At the same time it is possible to have an energy consumption without fossil and totally renewable materials.
An indispensable condition of the cooperative is to guarantee access to decent and affordable housing to become an affordable alternative for low incomes. Financing difficulties mean that the cost of construction is a determining factor in establishing the value of the monthly fee.
We have responded by considering two phases of work to minimize the initial investment. The first one achieves the livable minimums that allow users to enter the building, and a later one where the community can complete the rest during time.
Also, the design of the building has incorporated low-tech solutions to incorporate processes of self-construction in concrete tasks of the completion of the work to reduce the overall cost of construction.