Barcelona housing co-op La Borda wins Mies van der Rohe award

Catalan architecture co-op Lacol has added to its awards collection with the development, which aims to redefine collective housing in the city

A Catalan architecture co-op has won the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award in Emerging Architecture for its La Borda housing co-operative development.

Chosen from 532 works across 41 different countries, La Borda’s co-op model was a key factor in its selection. The awards committee said: “This co-operative project is transgressive in its context because although housing production is mainly dominated by macroeconomic interests, in this case, the model is based on co-ownership and co-management of shared resources and capacities.”

Built in 2018, La Borda was established as a community response to Barcelona’s speculative and inaccessible housing market. Its architects, Lacol co-operative, describe the 28-unit wood framed building as a self-organised project that gives people “decent, non-speculative housing that puts its use value at the centre, through a collective structure”. 

This recognition is the latest of a number of awards won by the co-op, including the Ciutat de Barcelona Prize in 2018 and a European Responsible Housing Award in 2019.

The building was designed around community and social values, with a number of shared spaces and facilities such as laundry, kitchen and living room and bicycle parking. Residents also share storage space and tools, and even make monthly contributions to a common funding pot for use in emergencies. The funds can be drawn on by those who find themselves in financial difficulty, which proved useful during the Covid-19 crisis. The building also has spaces for conflict resolution and emotional care, with plans to set up a healthcare space in the future.

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The collective nature of these spaces has also allowed them to adapt to changing needs. When the pandemic hit, communal spaces were able to give residents the social interaction they were missing from elsewhere, and the guest rooms were converted into spaces for remote working. 

Residents of La Borda rent their flats from the co-op at below market rates, receiving permanent resident status without owning the property. This means that flats cannot be sublet or sold on by residents, placing the emphasis on “use value above exchange value”. La Borda says this model, which has seen success in countries such as Denmark and Uruguay “eliminates property speculation and profiteering on a fundamental right like housing”. 

The land on which La Borda sits is leased from Barcelona City Council for a period of 75 years, making it an officially state subsidised housing development. This  means that there is a maximum income limit for residents and maximum rent that can be charged to them.

La Borda sits on the edge of Can Batlló, a community-led initiative in the Bordeta neighbourhood of Sants, an area with a rich co-operative history. 

The former industrial site of Can Batlló was occupied by the local people in 2011 as part of a campaign to reclaim the space for community use. In 2012 the idea of ​​a housing co-operative was born, to sit alongside a number of other developments including a bar/restaurant, a school, a publishing house, a carpentry workshop and a co-op development centre.

Like Can Batlló, La Borda has been the site of inter-cooperation throughout its existence, partnering with Coop57 in its financing, Som Energia co-operative for its energy and Azimut360, Girasol and Arkenova co-ops in the installation of 20 solar panels that were added to the building in 2020. 

Virtual tour of La Borda

La Borda also rents a shop unit to consumer co-op L’Economat Social, which is based in the building and is available for residents and the wider community to buy organic and local produce. 

Lacol’s stated aims for the housing co-op are threefold: to redefine the collective housing programme, achieve sustainability and environmental quality and centre user participation. They highlight participation of future users in the process of design, construction and use as the “most important and differential variable of the project, generating an opportunity to meet and project with them and their specific needs.”

The award recognises that La Borda is more than a single entity, saying that the architecture co-op itself offers “a role model and an active tool for promoting political and urban change from within the system, based on social, ecological and economic sustainability”.

The awards ceremony will take place on 12 May at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona and will also be livestreamed on YouTube, where Lacol will give a presentation about La Borda alongside other winners and finalists.