Interview with Lluís Escarmís from GCA Architects, the award-winning architectural firm behind AM49, a spectacular new renovation project in Barcelona’s exclusive Eixample district
AM49 is the latest venture from ARC Properties, Barcelona-based developers who are currently helping create some of the city’s most eye-catching new homes. For this new project located in upmarket Calle Ausiàs Marc in Eixample Right, they joined forces with GCA architects who are responsible for some of the world’s most beautiful homes and residences.
Why did you decide to take on the AM49 project?
For various reasons:
Because of the owner’s willingness to create a new product for the market, focusing on a different kind of property that will set the benchmark. Because of their clear ideas, marketing mentality and ability to place the product on the market. Because of the interest they have shown in us since seeing that we are able to create something new together. Because we have all been capable of listening to one another. Good projects only happen with good owners and, obviously, with good chemistry. Lastly, because of the location and characteristics of the existing building. Converting a block of offices into residential properties provides a lot of scope for creativity.
What is the concept behind AM49 and what is your vision for the project?
A building that combines the class of a Zona Alta building with the layout of a modern apartment offering spaciousness and versatility from a central space which connects all the rooms. A building with a high class structure, reflecting the freshness of contemporary city life and the simplicity and natural feel of its spaces. Sometimes, small changes in just the right place result in a quantum leap in terms of quality.
Can you talk us through the process of renovating a building of this nature and the key steps involved?
The focal point is the position and distribution of a new core access area. Creating open spaces with a layout which avoids losing square meterage in corridors inside or outside the apartment. From here, we move on to the configuration of patios and the ability to open spaces up to the outside and the light; allowing for cross views, lighting and ventilation. The rest is imagination and technology in equal measures, looking for image and structural quality in the finishes that period buildings do not have. Details in the construction, the capacity for thermal insulation and soundproofing are key design elements in order to create comfortable new residential properties.
How big is the team involved in the renovation process?
For a project to excel, it needs quality, diversity and quantity. Starting with an owner with optimal marketing sense, previous experience as a developer and the technical ability to oversee the project and its construction. A team of architects, interior designers, and structural and service engineers with plenty of experience in the sector and who are open minded. The biggest challenge is to coordinate all of this expertise. We are talking about more than 14, 15 people focused on its design alone.
What have been your biggest challenges in the renovation process?
There have been many challenges but the main one, without a doubt, is how to adapt the structure of the building in order to free up space and put an efficient core in place, both in terms of size and position. They are key in the transformation of pre-existing buildings. They are features that go unnoticed once the project is complete but that are essential for creating an attractive home concept.
How does designing a luxury residence compare to designing an upmarket hotel?
The approach is very different, even just in terms of the time-use-size concept. The focus of a hotel is to offer an extensive experience, that can fascinate you in a short amount of time, a limited space, and where exclusivities that we can’t afford at home become important in the design. In residential projects we contemplate luxury and focus it more in terms of quality, large, clean spaces, high-end finishes and constant but integrated details. Space, light, warmth, quality and harmony combined with practicality and stability.
What features of the AM49 design are ‘stand-out’ and what do you think makes the design typical of GCA?
In order of importance I would say:
1. The creation of good-sized homes, with a common central space where the width of the façade and the depth of similar dimensions, create an extraordinary feeling of spaciousness and light.
2. Positioning the lounge-style kitchen in the centre of the home, connecting the day and night areas and absorbing the space that would otherwise be lost in corridors. There are no longer any corridors; it is a loft-style residence where the various other spaces are added to the central space at our convenience.
There is no such thing as a typical GCA design. As a company we are always investing knowledge in the development of specific buildings for specific clients and programmes. What can be said about GCA design is that content, material and detail are conceived and designed together and that is noticeable in the product. It is contemporary and balanced at the same time.
Who do you think the AM49 residences will appeal to?
For those who, besides looking for a well-located building, high quality construction and practicality that few buildings in Barcelona have in terms of accessibility, also seek a residence that reflects today’s values: naturalness, simplicity, connectivity and versatility. For those who regard the feeling of connection with the exterior as a basic requirement. This is a very Nordic mentality; I think they may be of great interest to them.
Can you describe the AM49 project in 3 words?
Reflection of our times.