Interview with Martín Ezquerro Fernández of Lagula Arquitectes, the architectural firm behind Marlet 1, a stunning New Development in Barcelona Old Town
Firstly, tell us a little about the history and location of the Marlet 1 building.
Marlet 1 is the latest impression on the rich layers of history that tell the story of this plot. Located in the heart of Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella inside the walls surrounding the Roman city on which it was founded, many of the successive new elements added since can be seen today in the fabric of the ancient canvas of this building.
Marlet 1 is the archaeology that leads from that original Roman city to the Jewish quarter of Barcelona, where a shelter for sick, poor and travellers was erected and whose commemorative plaque of 1314, dedicated to the rabbi who founded it, is still preserved in the building, next to the Great Synagogue of Barcelona. On this site settled the Medieval city, and now the current building sits here, a sober and solemn construction dating back to the late 19th Century.
Marlet 1 is history, archaeology, conservation and restoration, it is the desire to preserve and make visible all that which has passed. But it is also technology, innovation, sustainability and freshness that will sustain all that is to come. It is a proposition of life today in the atmosphere of yesterday.
Marlet 1 is a building of multiple luxury homes, a unique and incomparable example in the city of Barcelona. The renovation displays the power and robustness of the original building, the spaciousness of its rooms, its high, coffered ceilings with wooden beams, its large windows through which the Mediterranean light filters and its stately balconies and rooftops which enjoy the enviable climate of the city. But it is also a project that proposes a new way of living, a way that is contemporary, dynamic and alive, where clean design, technology and the sophistication of current times coexist and contrast with all of the good things of the past.
What was your overall vision for the project?
In this particular case, the context provides the vision. The historic traces, both physical and symbolic, were so important that our vision right from the beginning was to place ourselves at the service of “the mummy” (as we called the building in the study), and bring it to fruition – to revive it, to heal wounds, to get it in shape and make it beautiful in time for the ball.
What do you think has been the biggest challenge so far?
In Marlet 1, paradoxically, there is a technological challenge of the first order. Being so honest and so respectful of the original building and its context has meant having to develop a very detailed rehabilitation project in which we have sought the best solution to each problem. We have also been very specific in applying the optimal technological solution for each case in order not to distort the original strength and logic of the building.
Actually, that has not been the greatest challenge. The biggest challenge has been maintaining the global vision, which we spoke about earlier, right through until the end, staying at the service of “the mummy” above all else. That, for us as designers, has required an enormous effort in terms of control, of having to be very clear and focussed in our solutions – to achieve the level of excellence required by the project and to reach the level of sophistication that was intended, whilst trying, as far as possible, to make the architect’s work invisible. Only after reaching a certain degree of maturity in this profession is one able to engage with a job so intensely and then disappear without a sound, feeling that one has done the right thing.
How big is the team working on the project and how is it divided?
It may sound idealistic, but in the studio we have not taken the project as a job but as a challenge. The five partners studied in the city and we have walked through the streets of Call many times, in some cases in the early hours of the morning. So somehow our emotional involvement with the site and the project has been difficult to disassociate in many stages of the process. Our first studio was located in a similar building next to Plaça del Pi, so we are old acquaintances of the neighbourhood.
It has also been a source of gratitude for us that ARC Properties trusted us to go ahead with such a unique and iconic project as this.
By this I mean that there has been much, much more behind this project and the construction management than is usual. At the most intense points there have been 15 specialists working simultaneously on Marlet 1.
The team has been divided into: 1 founding partner of the company specialising in structural design, 5 senior architects specialising in office project work, 3 senior engineers for calculating and monitoring installations, 2 surveyors for the development of technical documentation and managing the execution of works and myself, the project and site manager.
How does Lagula’s philosophy fit in with the creation of this New Development?
Marvellously. We fit in well wherever our participation is required and there is a willingness to do things properly. Our philosophy is simply to provide a service with the utmost professionalism and to do so enthusiastically. And one is only passionate about that which one likes and believes in.
Great attention to detail has been taken with fixtures, fittings and accessories. How did you go about deciding which finishes to utilise, and from where have they been sourced?
Yes, that’s been one of our obsessions. Since strategically we thought that the design should be discreet and at the service of the original building, every detail, every delivery and each material has become a crucial decision. Of course, with all of the due respect and affection that we have had for the original building, that was not enough, it was essential to bring something more to it (actually much more). Marlet 1 makes you feel special when you inhabit it and that’s what comes from every detail of the building. Let’s say that instead of opting for architecture as a spectacle, in this case we have chosen architecture as an experience.
The sources which we drink from in this studio are not those of the magazines or the latest trends, they are the old familiar ones. Our source is to go through life with eyes wide open and we have been in this city with that attitude for many years. In Marlet 1 there is a piece of Barcelona in every corner.
What do you think is the main appeal of the Marlet 1 apartments is for both foreign and local buyers? What makes the apartments unique?
Our work aside, Marlet 1 is an asset in itself. Its location is exceptional, at the point where the city originated, that’s priceless. But it also has something that makes it unique. The buildings in the area often overlook very narrow streets and have little façade space, but Marlet 1 has 3 façades, which is very unusual in the area. And if that were not enough, each of the façades has a uniqueness that makes living conditions (light and ventilation) unbeatable in the area. One of the façades opens on to a diagonal street that allows light to enter, another façade is faced by a building which is set back from the ground floor which means that the street space is bigger than usual in the Gothic area and there is a little public square in front of the third façade.
Why do you think Marlet 1 apartments are a good long-term investment?
Essentially because none of its main assets can lose value. The area is so special and coveted that it can only increase its value. The way the town councils take care of the historic centres of their cities, it is impossible to think of the decline of Barcelona Old Town. We can only think of improvements. And its other great asset is the building itself, a less dedicated kind of renovation could have been carried out, just looking to get the maximum economic profit from the properties and forgetting about everything else, but in this case, the renovation is complete and comes with all guarantees. It might not be right coming from me, but the property is completely reliable. What’s more, the building has the latest technological developments and is designed to be upgraded and to accommodate changing times directly, without major works.
How do you envisage future trends for architectural design in Barcelona in the next 5 years or so?
As we said before, we do not understand much about trends. Actually we are rather suspicious of them, for their fleeting nature. It does not seem advisable, or even fair, to associate things that are designed to last so long and cost so much money, such as buildings, with something as fickle and unsubstantial as a fad.
We therefore believe that in the next 5 years and the 50 after that, the most sublime, valuable and sophisticated will be, as is the case today, that which is the best built, the most honest and the most timeless.