Escola Ignasi Iglesias

  • LOCATION Barcelona
  • > CLIENT Public
  • YEAR 2016
  • STATUS Built
  • CATEGORY Architecture
  • SCALE Neighbourhood
  • TEAM OUA Group

“The improvement of common spaces empowers education to go beyond classrooms”

Created in 1930 in a historic masia (an iconic rural building in Catalonia) in the neighbourhood of San Andreu and in honour of the poet and playwright Ignasi Iglesias, the origins of this school resonate in the details of this expansion project and urban architecture renovation.

As a theatre director, Iglesias managed to stage the experiences of the people: the joys and the sorrows, what happened in the street and what happened indoors, at home or at work. This interest in representing, connecting and placing value on indoor and outdoor spaces, between intimacy and life in society, was also clear in his fierce and visionary advocacy of an open-air model of schools. All this connects with the proposal of design, the heritage management work, and the desire to innovate, which characterises this project.

Awarded with a Barcelona medal of honour in 2007 and torchbearer of several educational changes, the school started this last expansion and renovation in 2018 thanks to OUA, which won the public tender for the project of extension, adaptation and improvement of its facilities. The aim of the intervention (based on a creative and analytical study) was to adapt the school to the needs of current pedagogical projects and turn it into a real hub for the neighbourhood. One of the architects involved in the project, Laura Coladas, explains the process to us.

How can an innovative proposal be made for a project with such a strong historical framework?
Unlike the response that had been given until then (strictly practical and functional and consisting of adding successive isolated volumes according to the needs of the moment), the project was based on a clear objective of improving the spaces and the existing masia. For this reason, we always took into consideration its integration and urban management within a wide historical area of the city, which combines residential and corporate projects, companies, offices, hotels and industrial buildings (among others). The new volumes were organised to give continuity to Palomar Street and Cinca Street in terms of urban planning and to present an entrance façade whose avant-garde style contrasts with the original Catalan masia and isolates it consciously. This decision is essential because it emphasises its historical character by enhancing its immediate surroundings.

What is the most outstanding feature of the project?
The expansion and the improvement of common spaces empowers education to go beyond classrooms, transforming the building, adapting it to the new needs of pedagogical projects, and giving a wink to the origins of the school. In addition to these spaces for common use, transition areas between inside and outside of the school have also been added on each floor. These spaces not only serve to improve the efficiency and comfort of the interior spaces but also to open the door to the possibility of being used as part of the building, facilitating outdoor classes and connecting with the school’s immediate surroundings.

What impact does this distinctive openness have on the environment?
In addition to the public and social service of a school, it is noted that the new configuration of the building allows the recreational and common spaces to be used by the people of the neighbourhood outside school hours. Consequently, the project is aimed at the entire educational community, but it is also permeable to the neighbourhood environment, to the interactions that are generated in these spaces and to the possibilities of use beyond the academy purposes.

How has the relationship between the historic masia and the expansion been enhanced?
It has been enhanced by placing all the spaces for common use, both indoors and outdoors: the dining room, the library, the garden, the multifunctional court and a pergola that connects these two buildings.
Improving the relationship between the classroom area and the masia was one of the main objectives of the intervention, and we have managed to transform a disordered and unused space into the new centre of gravity of the complex.

What led to the choice of materials and the creation of new volumes?
The project was based on specific pre-existing buildings such as the masia and the classroom building, as well as the presence of Casa Bloc, just in front of it. These characteristics led us to opt for new simple volumetries and neutral materials that were easy to read, as well as to emphasize the distribution of the volumes within the plot and on the relationship spaces that are generated between them.

On the outside, we took advantage of the metal fence of the facility to connect the new elements with the existing ones in order to communicate the unity of the whole, but always respecting the individual values of each of the elements and especially of the masia.

What elements make the project sustainable?
Multiple aspects have been taken into account: a substantial improvement in the thermal insulation of the building envelope; the incorporation of solar collection engineering systems for electricity generation; the introduction of adjustable solar protection elements that allow interior heating during the winter period and protection during the hottest months; a complete renovation of the heating system through aerothermal energy and low-temperature radiators; the facilitation of cross ventilation of the spaces; the automation of the air renewal in the classrooms through mechanical ventilation with heat recovery; etc. All these elements not only make the building more sustainable but also improve considerably the comfort of its users.

What was the methodology of the work process? And what impact did it have?
During the drafting of the project and the construction phase, there was continuous interaction with the Education Consortium and the school’s director and teachers, who were key players in conceiving, from a multidisciplinary perspective, the spaces and the functioning of the entire building.

What reflections does the project raise?
Now that the school is up and running, being able to observe how the spaces are used shows us the importance of interaction with the environment in the education of the youngest children and how a good approach on the spaces is fundamental to facilitate and encourage this relationship.

What contribution does the new school make to the educational project and the environment where it is located?
The new school Ignasi Iglesias not only responds with great success to an educational need but also enhances a wide historical site that had been little respected until then. It also emphasises the importance and viability of the recovery of historical heritage in Catalonia for the implementation of new uses.