August 27, 2014

Designed for Designers: Design Hub Barcelona by BAAS Arquitectura

Picky, picky. It’s hard to imagine a more discerning bunch than the pro­fessionals at Design Hub Barcelona. Just as the name suggests, DHuB aims to be where it’s at in Spain’s most architecture-centric city.

For BAAS Arquitectura director Jordi Badia, winning the commission for DHuB’s interior meant working for 90 tough design critics, some not thrilled with the idea of moving to the new building in the first place. It’s a two-part structure, the top of which will house the Design Museum of Barcelona when it opens in December. As construction neared completion, municipal leaders decided that the museum staff could use some company at their office, in the building’s base. So the group representing professional designers—known as FAD, for Fostering Arts and Design—was asked to move in, too, with its materials library, Materfad, that bears some resemblance to Interior Design’s sister brand Material ConneXion. Barcelona Design Center, the group representing businesses, likewise received an invitation.

The hope was that bringing everyone together under one roof would ensure that the location would become a true “hub” attracting people from all over—not only for museum exhibitions but also for workshops, talks, and festivals—despite being off the beaten path. It’s a few metro stops from the center of town, in the Glories area. The DHuB occupants’ misgivings aside, this former no-man’s-land is fast becoming a destination for the design-minded because of the interesting architecture taking shape there. A rocket-shape tower by Ateliers Jean Nouvel has gone up, and a beloved flea market recently reopened under a rippling, reflective metal roof by B720 Arquitectos.

Fortunately, Badia found a way to make everyone at DHuB feel at home, literally. By borrowing elements from domestic interiors, notably traditional wallpaper, deployed in a very untraditional way, he made the workplace as cozy as it is stylish. “We built a comfortable new space  by using the old techniques,” he says.

There was nothing warm-and-fuzzy about the 22,000-square-foot space when he won the competition for the publicly funded project. The ceiling, almost 13 feet high, had a metallic finish. The floor was poured concrete. Down the center ran a staggering 300-foot-long corridor. On one side, a vast office area yawned. On the other side were conference and seminar rooms.

The first order of business was to introduce a human scale, particularly along the endless corridor—nicknamed the Rambla, Spanish for avenue. In front of the real walls, Badia installed 7-foot-high wall panels that produce the illusion of lower headroom. He then went further, interrupting the faux walls periodically with volumes that jut out into the corridor. These glass-fronted boxes contain either passageways, serving as anterooms for the office area, or small meeting rooms. They also create bays for intimate seating areas outside.

Because the budget was just $850,000, he opted to leave the shiny ceiling and the concrete floor of the corridor alone. But it did get the red-carpet treatment in the form of red rugs placed every so often—a glamorous touch befitting organizations in the orbit of the fashion and art worlds. Even more striking is the wallpaper on those 7-foot-high panels, a treatment that salutes Barcelona’s history of interior and graphic design, in keeping with the future museum’s mission.

Uniting important collections of Cat­alan decorative objects, textiles, and graphics that, until now, have been scattered in collections around Barcelona, the museum owns a trove of 19th- and 20th-century wallpapers that he’d initially planned to reproduce for DHuB. When budgetary and technical constraints nixed that idea, he turned to wallpaper currently in production. He mixed patterns by prominent contem­porary names with anonymous patterns that have a familiar feel to them because of their common use in local homes. The patchwork works as a whole, thanks to the days spent mapping out the panels’ sizes and positions in advance. “We did a lot of drawings,” he recalls.

For furniture, he combined very rough-hewn custom pieces with sophisticated, polished icons. He used plain pine for the long desk in the reception area and the cabinets in the office area. For the meeting rooms and sitting areas along the corridor, meanwhile, he turned to some greatest hits. Josep Torres Clavé’s sober armchair, introduced in 1934? Check. Josep Antoni Coderch’s pumpkin-shape pendant fixture, 1957, composed of thin strips of wood? That’s here as well, along with Miguel Milá’s 1961 floor lamp with a cruciform base.

“If these offices are for people who will manage Catalan design in the future, we thought it was important to show Catalan designs of the past,” Badia offers. They’re also part of the Design Museum of Barcelona’s permanent collection. Which means that visitors will have the opportunity to ogle, from time to time, what lucky DHuB staffers get to experience every day.

Project Team: Rafael Berenjena; Marcos Catalán; Mireia Monràs; Eva Damià; Cristina Anglès; Zoí Casimiro; Albert Casas; Xavier Gracia; Mercè Lorente; Alba Azuara: Baas Arqui­tectura. Pgi Engineering: Mep. Synergia: Woodwork. Mobles Grau: Furniture Workshop. Bernadí: General Contractor.

Project Resources>>

Recent Projects