The Hotel Mandarin in Barcelona is the result of a long journey in which only the shared perseverance of “client and architect” can explain five years of work. At the start of summer 2004 we began working on the vague idea of a hotel on the Paseo de Gracia. At the time no contact existed with Mandarin Oriental or with any other hotel company. Only the dream of coming up with a proposal that would give a boost to the interest of the city. Barcelona had not had any new hotel provision of an international kind in the city center since the Olympic Games of 1992. Based on this awareness of the Barcelona of the beginning of the 21st century, we started working on a project that has gradually taken shape as the participants have confronted the reality of what introducing a facility with international projection in the heart of the “Cerdà Eixample” means. Barcelona has all it takes to become a destination of great international interest and as a cultural and business capital of the Mediterranean. Its recent designation as the headquarters of the Union for the Mediterranean confirms this fact. Implanting a hotel with the attributes of the Hotel Mandarin in the center of Barcelona is an achievement, due to the technical aspects as well as the urbanistic and architectural ones. The work transcends the urban ambit of the city. The site where the building that is the subject of the competition is found had previously been the headquarters of the Equestrian Circle, founded in 1856. That is to say, an institution that represented the Catalan haute-bourgeoisie. The Cerdà Project is from 1836, which in all probability confirms the first important activity on the site of number 38-40. Neoclassical in style, the building fell down during the Civil War, the current headquarters moving in 1950 to Casa Pérez Samanillo at the junction of the Avenida Diagonal and Calle Balmes.
Firstly, the Paseo de Gracia’s best-known buildings are from this period; in reality they were residential buildings of multifamily apartments like Gaudí’s Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. And also apartment buildings by Puig i Cadafalch and Doménech i Montaner. After the Civil War, the Equestrian Circle became the head office of the Banco Hispano Americano, one of the driving forces of the Spanish post-Civil War economy. The assignment went to Galíndez, who was the bank’s habitual architect. The building was finalized in 1955, just as we found it at the time of the convoking of the competition.
During that period, and until the designation of Barcelona as the seat of the Olympic Games, the Paseo de Gracia was mainly the setting for banking concerns and businesses of a local sort. Their buildings were shared use, with offices on the lower floors and apartments for well-to-do Barcelonan families on the upper.
It was in this context that the possibility emerged of working on a Paseo de Gracia given over to commercial trading, tourism and mass consumption. The convoking of a restricted, private competition between teams with international experience provided the opportunity to work for a client who wished to give a further boost to the city.
The Paseo de Gracia is one of the world’s best-known avenues. It is comparable such interventions in urban space as Regent Street in London, the Place Vendôme in Paris, Broadway in New York and the Via Veneto in Rome. It also has buildings of great cultural and architectonic value. The memory of the Paseo de Gracia is in itself a major part of the memory of the city. It forms one of the axes of Barcelona. Its buildings reveal the pulse of the Paseo throughout the history of the city.
Presented under the watchword “Metropolis,” in reference to the film by Fritz Lang, the competition project posited an intervention based on the strict fulfillment of the regulations in force. However, despite the modifications the project underwent during its process of elaboration due to the new requirements that were being requested because of the late incorporation of Mandarin Oriental, from the first a conception emerged that was to remain in force until today: the entrance to the building was to be understood as a prolongation of the Paseo de Gracia and would permit the introduction of “public space” inside the building.
In summer 2004 they notified us of the adjudication of the project.
The key to the intervention lies in the itinerant nature of the Paseo de Gracia. Cerdà’s urban plan made use of the old track that linked Barcelona and the Vil•la de Gràcia. Going along the Paseo possessed an itinerant quality inasmuch as buildings relevant to the city kept appearing. This situation was even more exceptional when, moreover, the building offered the possibility of introducing the passer-by into its interior. We encounter this situation, for instance, in Gaudí’s La Pedrera, which proffers a ground floor to the visitor as a prolongation of his or her trajectory from the space outside. For this reason the Hotel Mandarin intervention proposes blurring the limits between the Paseo and the interior of the building. To do this, a prolongation of the Paseo is proposed through an architectural itinerary that “introduces” public space inside the building. It is a matter of offering the passer-by an architectural experience. This experience will transcend the contingency of use or of the architectural language or decoration inherent to the time to which any building pertains.
We design a longitudinal axis, which connects the building from the street to the interior of the city block. This axis is an itinerary that extends over the following sequence:
1. The Paseo de Gracia:
From where access takes place.
2. The facade:
The facade does not conform to the Modernista (Art Nouveau) landscape of the Paseo de Gracia, but has respected its memory. The intervention has consisted of preserving its main order, but has eliminated all superfluous ornamentation.
3. The entrance portico:
The only intervention of importance has concentrated on opening up the windows of the ground floor in order to create an entrance portico, the aim being to obtain permeability from the Paseo towards the interior, inviting access.
4. The access ramp:
The main access is via an aerial walkway that offers an ascending route, eliminating the original entrance with its descending imperial staircase. This operation provides an “optimistic” entrance and permits arrival in a more centered position of the building, thereby resolving the circulatory system within.
5. The atrium lightwell:
While crossing the entrance ramp one discovers the atrium lightwell.
The illumination is natural and artificial.
The first is produced by a glass skylight.
The second, by the geometrical slippage of the window frames of the access corridors to the rooms.
This solution provides continuity in spatial and sensory perception between day and night.
It also offers a scenic entrance that marks the sequence of the transition between exterior and interior.
6. Arrival at the mezzanine level:
The entrance to the closed area of the hotel is situated on the mezzanine floor. From this distributor all the accesses to the different areas of the hotel are resolved.
From here one discovers the double space of the former trading floor of the bank.
7. The former trading floor:
This space has been recreated with a new structure and natural overhead lighting, and is devoted to the hotel’s more public areas: lounges, restaurants and cafeteria.
8. The interior of the block:
The roof of the former trading floor forms the garden-terrace in the interior of the block, with the collaboration of Beth Figueras.
9. The interior facade:
The intervention consists in providing a “veil” for the original structure of the building, conserving its volumetry.
A system of metal ribs permits visual and light control.
10. The corridor-ambulatory:
Access to the bedrooms is produced by means of an interior ambulatory, which is in fact the interior facade of the atrium lightwell. In this way one has a new perception of this great space. If when crossing the ramp the view is global and complete, from the inside it is fragmented and kinetic.
11. The roof:
With its clean, geometric and compact volumetry, the roof brings together an immense number of service elements. Furthermore, the solution of the section also provides a platform-vantage point over the city. A sheet of water and a strip of vegetation distance the visitor from the vertical plane of the facade and contribute to offsetting the inhospitable effect of very high roofs.
Of a total of 17,000 m2, the ground floor of the hotel is meant for the main lounge (1,300 m2), but will combine cafeteria and restaurant uses in the same space. A system of sliding doors will permit small meeting rooms to be closed off for business events.
One kitchen is found on the ground floor for the restaurant and cafeteria, and the other on the mezzanine floor for gourmet cuisine. Found on the mezzanine level of the former trading floor are the hotel’s more exclusive and private spaces. From the mezzanine level one can accede via the stairs situated in each of its side patios to the roof on the first floor, destined for the garden terrace of more than 600 m2.
The surface area of the first basement level (2,400 m2) is divided up between those uses intended for the personnel, such as offices, a changing facility, restaurant, laundry and merchandizing control, and a huge spa of more than 1,000 m2, with changing rooms for the clients, a climate-controlled indoor swimming pool, a fitness area and cabins for all kinds of therapies and treatments. The second basement level (2,400 m2) is devoted to all the installations and storage areas of the hotel. On this basement level are also found the servers of the hotel’s entire computer system, the swimming pool machinery and the distributors of the electrical circuits. Cold-storage rooms for the kitchen and for the refuse have also been planned. It has to be borne in mind that the Paseo de Gracia has a highly restricted early-morning timetable for loading and unloading. As a result, a way has been devised to permit the logistics of this to work by means of a palletization system that will be put into effect off the hotel premises. The 102 bedrooms of the hotel are found between the first and the eighth floors. On each floor one accedes from two entrance cores, one for clients, the other for room service.
Situated on the ninth floor is the presidential suite of almost 200 m2.
On the roof is the open-air swimming pool, with separate entrances for service personnel and clients. Access by elevator makes the roof an ideal spot—some 300 m2 in size—for organizing special events or parties.
Finally, on the roof are found the hotel’s more voluminous installations. These are large cooling plants to provide climate control for the bedrooms, groups of electricity generators in case the building’s electricity supply is interrupted, a gondola for cleaning the interior atrium, the boilers and tanks for producing sanitary hot water, the solar energy-collecting panels, the outlets of conduits from kitchen hoods and ventilation systems, etc. The general description of the program is of use to understand the difficulty of siting a state-of-the-art hotel program in a building from the Spanish post-Civil War period.
The material aspects
The main facade is of light beige “Figueres” limestone. Since supplies of this kind of stone are no longer to be had, fragments of the actual building have been utilized to make the necessary repairs.
The frames of the windows on the Paseo de Gracia facade are of natural bronze. All the same, sound and thermal insulation must be installed to optimum standards. To do this, we have used as a base an aluminum profile system approved for such an end and this has been coated with bronze by means of a mechanized system specific to this project.
The profile system of the display windows and access to the ground-floor premises are of solid sulphurated brass. They reach a height of five meters. In the profile system the glass rebates are resolved by means of milling. The rear facade consists entirely of different profile systems of solid extruded aluminum designed especially for this facade. This involves a framework system that provides a response to the different types of galleries, balconies and windows. It consists of T-section profiles, slats of variable section and inclination, and angled sheets to resolve the different heights of the main floors. All the aluminum is lacquered in a bronze color specific to the building.
The inner facade of the atrium is a system of mutually sliding steel frames. In order to allow for the thickness of the existing structure, a geometric “game” has been designed that permits the atrium to be illuminated via the actual elements of the windows. This is a simple constructional solution of sheets of plasterboard with damp-resistant properties, finished in white. The paving of the flat roof on the first floor is of dark gray, striated, “Cumella” sandstone. This means “rehabilitating” ceramic on the interior of the block, but with contemporary properties. On the same flat roof we have set out a series of large stainless-steel skylights, respecting the original structure of the building.
Metalisteria Talleres Inox, Joan Obré
Illumination Isometrix, Lighting Consulting
1st Michelin Star (internacional), 2011
Tatler Travel Guide, 2011
Best City Hotel (UK)
Best Business Hotel
Top 10 Business hotels in the world list
European Hotel Design Awards, 2010
Best Conversion of an Existing Building to Hotel use
Best Restaurant Design, 2010
Blanc ~ European Hotel Design Awards
Interior Design Magazine (EE. UU.), 2010
Condé Nast Traveller (Reino Unido) , 2010
Senses Magazine (Alemania), 2010
Best Design Award
160 users love this project