Architecture studio gr-os, led by RIBA chartered architect Juan Gurrea Rumeu, has recently completed a single-family house and studio in Barcelona, Spain, for the architect and his wife, the artist Beatriz Dubois. The practice has collaborated with local architects Mercè Badal and Teresa Rumeu.
The site is located in Vallcarca, in the north of Barcelona, a district which has been affected by poor urban planning for decades. In a chaotic array of steep roads, early XXc. Art Noveau houses coexist with industrial workshops and modest apartment blocks from the 70s, evoking a sense of roughness and nostalgia.
The volume is a monolithic grey box which responds with subtle details to the eclecticism of the context. The harsh appearance of an industrial building is softened by carefully studied proportions of solid and void. Three square openings create a theatrical interaction with the street, curating views, intimacy, and exposure. In the main elevation, a concrete plinth rises as a column which supports a steel lintel. This composition is both a manifestation of the structure and an understated ornamental gesture, informed by the finely detailed building across the street.
The textured stucco facade has been done manually, following a local vernacular technique, echoing the richness and spontaneity of brushwork.
The dwelling shares a long and narrow plot with a multi-storey apartment building, which basement is used as the artist’s studio. Both volumes are connected through a central courtyard, accessed from a large, glazed opening and filled with tropical plants, bringing nature into the space.
The programme is clearly divided between the more public areas (kitchen, dining room and studio) on the ground floor and three bedrooms and a living room on the second and third floor. A double-height concrete block tower, comprising the garage, distances the first two floors from the density of the city.
Despite being a north facing house, the aim has not been to capture as much light as possible but rather to emphasise the value of shadow, particularly moved by Tanizaki’s essay. Dark walnut floors and stained plywood, glazed tiles and the honesty and imperfection of in-situ concrete amplify the sensorial experience of the space. In addition, double height spaces and indirect sunlight bring a certain sense of mystery to the interior.
Services and false ceilings are concentrated in the centre of the plan, leaving most of the structure exposed. Concrete slabs are supported by a central concrete chore which hides the upper flights of stairs. Steel columns are concealed in the perimeter except one of them, which is left visible on every floor. It is displayed as a playful element in the centre of the room, becoming thinner as the load reduces.
The building is highly insulated, and it can be passively ventilated throughout. Moreover, an ASHP system has been installed to provide cooling, underfloor heating, and hot water.