I recently spent a few days in the City of Barcelona, Spain. It was a most rewarding experience for an architect like myself. The history of this city goes back more than 2000 years when it was a small outpost called Barcino in the Roman Empire. Some parts of those structures remain today.
The weather of Barcelona is quite hot and humid during the summer months and residents had been finding ways to provide relief from the oppressive weather since Roman times.
The city’s most famous, home grown architect was Antoni Gaudi, 1852-1926, and he was a master at finding ways to provide light without heat gain and a master at passive cooling.
In Casa Batllo, Gaudi created a dynamic and visually exciting structure invoking the beauty of the sea. He also integrated strategies for passive cooling in the artistic and functional architectural features. In many of the doors in the home there are vents that could be opened in the lower portions of the door to allow air to flow from the room out to other rooms. The walls were made of massive concrete that worked as thermal barriers and created a lag between the outside heat so that the heat wouldn’t enter the building until the cooler evening. It works the other way too for cooling during the day.
In the center of the building is where the genius strategy is most present. A large atrium and core from the first level all the way to the top of the structure covered by a large, frosted glass and steel skylight. The skylight has operable panes that can be opened for air flow. The rooms at the top level have smaller windows than the rooms on the ground level so that every room would receive about the same amount of light. The entire atrium is covered in blue tile that is dark at the top level and very light at the lowest level to achieve visual unity when light comes down the shaft. It’s both functional and beautiful.
Gaudi’s work can be seen all over the City of Barcelona such as the Basillica Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and Casa Mila. But it is with Casa Batllo where this architect learned the most in applying functioning passive cooling and natural, glowing daylight with beauty.