“Our project shows the strength people can have when they are organised”

Housing. In Barcelona, many housing cooperatives are demonstrating that another housing model is possible. We spoke to one of them, La Borda, which is constructing a sustainable and modular building on a plot of land made available by the City Council

This is a project which involves no property developers, banks, the most common building materials, nor a conventional layout. The housing being built at C/ Constitució 85-89, in the Sants-Montjuïc district, is like no other. La Borda’s building is the result of the strength of a neighbourhood cooperative associated with Can Batlló, who are demonstrating that another housing model is possible.

Cooperatives are non-profit associations which aim to facilitate their members’ access to housing. Decisions are made in a democratic way and, in order to drive their projects forward, members are required to pay an initial and periodic contributions. Often, these contributions are funded by social entities or ethical banking entities.

According to the partner of the La Borda cooperative, Carles Baiges, “our project shows the strength people can have when they are organised”. “We are self-promoted by people and have a limited economic capacity, yet we are building the tallest wooden building in Spain, which will have the highest energy category and has already won prizes, and we have achieved all of this without knocking on the door of a bank”, he proudly explains.

The building, which will be finished by summer 2018, has six floors and 28 flats measuring 40, 50 and 76 square metres. It is being built on a site which has been made available by the Barcelona City Council for a period of 75 years, in exchange for an annual fee.


A ground breaking model for Barcelona

La Borda cooperative has been taken forward by some fifty future neighbours who have come together and imported a housing model which is popular in other countries to Barcelona: the transfer of use. According to this model, the owner of the property is part of the cooperative, and grants life-long use of the flats to other members.

“For us, this is a way of removing housing from the speculative cycle. It doesn’t serve to make people rich, rather, they profit from its use”, said Baiges.

The goal of the cooperative is to offer accessible housing to its members: “This is one of the advantages of La Borda, and that is because the plot belongs to the City Council. It’s important because many of us lack purchasing power which makes it difficult for us to access the private market”, he adds.

This project has a total budget of 3 million euros and has not been financed by any bank, instead relying on microloans from individuals and entities such as the finance cooperative, Coop57.

As a self-promoting cooperative, we have a collaborative decision-making process in regard to the building: “We have had to discuss everything, it has been long and tiring, because we’ve had to think about many things, but it has also been very rewarding, and we wouldn’t change the excitement we feel now for anything”, said Baiges.


Community life

Cohabiting not only promotes a new housing model, but also another way of living in and managing property as a community. Members of La Borda do not wish to live surrounded by strangers, they prefer to share specific spaces with their neighbours. For this reason, they have opted to create slightly smaller flats and give more space to communal areas.

For example, they will share certain features that are not regularly used, such as washing machines and guest rooms. There will also be a communal dining area and a multi-purpose room which can be used for birthday parties or for children to play in.

Beyond the economic savings that they expect to make from these measures, what the future neighbours would like is to strengthen the ties between members of the community, creating a network of people who mutually care for and help each other.

“We like to imagine older people helping to take care of children, young people going shopping for the elderly and children going to school together,” said Baiges.


A sustainable and modular building

The building where they will live has some peculiar features. The wooden structure is made from pinewood, a much more sustainable material than concrete or steel because less resources are required to produce it and it can be constructed much more quickly: the six floor building was erected in six weeks, whereas it would have taken six months if it were concrete. The wood has been treated so that, in the event of a fire, it is fire retardant like conventional housing.

La Borda will be a very low-consumption building which will hardly require any climate control such as heating or air-conditioning. In fact, the sustainability advisers of the cooperative have calculated that the climate control consumption for the whole building will be equivalent to that of a 200 square metre house.

Balconies which can be converted into galleries when it’s cold, a cover over the inner courtyard which can be opened and closed according to the seasons, the orientation, design, materials, etc. All of these features have been designed so that the building can capture the maximum amount of sun in the winter and stay fresh in the summer.

Another innovative feature is that spaces will be “flexible”: if space is lacking in one house and there is extra space in another, the walls may be moved to add or remove rooms. In this way, the flats can be adapted to the needs of their occupants.