Batlleiroig is an architecture firm based in the city of Barcelona, whose extensive portfolio encompasses urban projects, landscaping, buildings, and interior design. We spoke with Joan Batlle Blay, Architect & Landscape Architect and partner at the firm, about the innovations and challenges in his work. According to him, “In our office, we think that R+D (research and development) is the company’s main tool to innovate and evolve our work method into an absolute creed for the planet.” See the full interview below:
Eduardo Souza (ArchDaily): The variety of materials and construction systems and the scale of projects in the office's work is remarkable. What defines the materials and methods used in each of them?
Joan Batlle Blay (Batlleiroig): Each project has its own challenges and its own site, so it is difficult to give a generalized answer. Our way of working follows a methodology of analysis of the territory where the project is located and of the program that is requested, therefore, each project is unique and we believe that it should be like that.
During the analysis, we make a reading of the nearby ecosystems, the natural or anthropized landscape, and the human culture that defines the place. Thus, we come to detect palettes of materials, colors, and/or textures, but above all, we understand who we must respect: nature. Furthermore, clients expect that work from us; they want us to understand the site and to respond to the problems raised.
We work so that our projects are a balance between what the place is and what the client asks; we never superimpose one on top of the other and thus we feel comfortable.
ES: How does your approach to large-scale public space design work? How important is multidisciplinary work in this sense?
JBB: Site analysis is important whatever the scale of the project is. The territory is never a blank page. If analyzed, it will give answers to the raised questions. Sometimes the answer or solution to a project, no matter how complicated it may seem, is in nature or in agriculture.
One example is the Landscape restoration of the Garraf Controlled Waste Landfill in the Garraf Natural Park, a Batlleiroig project. The restoration project did not want to imitate the nature that existed previously, and it was also impossible to do it with more than 100 m of rubble underneath. The objective was to create agricultural fields with Leguminosae (commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family) that provided hydrogen and cows and sheep that helped create life in a soil that had lost it. These fields have their terraces, slopes, water channels, and their retention ponds for irrigation. Thus, it was possible to bring life back to a place full of plastic and methane, so that it finally becomes part of the Natural Park as if it were an old agricultural area.
In more urban projects where nature has disappeared, the objective may be to recover that nature and give it a leading role that helps us create a healthy and comfortable space. An example is the coverage of the Ronda de Dalt in Barcelona.
In our studio, we like to say that we are transversal and that we have knowledge in a wide variety of fields, but it is also true that we are specialists in various disciplines. We believe that architects or landscape architects today must also be specialists, but without losing the transversality that defined us at the beginning of the 20th century. Batlleiroig builds on and bases its success on talent retention and continuous training. We are architects, landscape architects, urban planners, building engineers, agronomists, environmentalists, and among all this training, each one has their own motivations and specialties. That makes us who we are.
ES: What kind of concerns do you have in relation to the origin of the materials, their impacts, the management of residues in the work, etc? In your opinion, what should the construction industry learn and improve?
JBB: Construction is one of the most important sources of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and the choice of materials plays a very important role. During the site analysis process, we always look for local or existing materials in the environment to work with. In the end, we have come to the conclusion that the best tool is nature, vegetation, and that is always our main ally.
All designers should try to reduce materials that involve high CO2 emissions in their extraction or transport. In our projects, we try to choose materials with few manufacturing processes, and, above all, we try to use the minimum amount of material. To achieve this, we are constantly innovating so that each project can respond to its problems without imposing a burden on the planet.
ES: In the case of the Recuperació de les Antigues Guixeres d’Igualada project, something that stands out is the backlit floor. Can you talk more about this solution? And about innovations in other urban projects developed by the office.
JBB: The concrete composition of the Scenic Path along Igualada’s old gypsum mines project includes a luminescent aggregate. This material harvests solar energy during the day and it gives it back at nighttime as luminescent energy. It is not light, but it creates a subtle luminous effect that can guide the path during the first hours of the night, increasing the amount of time the path can be used.
Every new project must inherit the knowledge gained in the previous ones, solve it in the most efficient way and accept new challenges; going even further. Every challenge that arrives at Batlleiroig is tackled from the same perspective: providing an honest solution to our client’s needs. This solution, however, also has to be ambitious regarding its efficiency, building excellence, and technological innovation. Every solution for every challenge we face is unique and must surpass the previous one; Batlleiroig’s R+D department is inside each one of us and innovation is part of the office’s DNA since day one.
Another example is the Path of the Forest in the Roques Blanques Metropolitan Cemetery (El Papiol). Learning from beavers who build their shelters from tree trunks, branches, and soil, like small dams along the river margins. The Krainer wall is made up of a mesh of tree trunks and coco bio-rolls. It is an ecological retaining system that may be a proper space for the burial of ashes. This biodegradable ensemble has an expected lifespan of 30 years (one generation) until it goes back to the state of the original forest, to be used as mourning and visiting space by relatives remembering their deceased.
ES: What is your point of view regarding the climate crisis? What kind of architecture should we think about in the future for real sustainability, beyond the discourse?
JBB: Climate change already was our main concern before the virus came into the scene, and it should remain like that.
The climate emergency has to be fought with hope, conviction, and the certainty we are fighting for our planet. This hope has to be present in our day-to-day, with the decisions we make. It must help us decide and explain our actions. However, with no enthusiasm it is easy to fall into the “status quo” and not make any changes. Innovating is the key to advancing and evolving improvements for the planet while growing both economically and socially.
We believe that there is no type of architecture for the future, we think that we have to provide solutions that respect the planet on a case-by-case basis. We must respect and understand what is needed in each place and give an adequate response that takes into account the climate emergency.
Caring for, improving, or creating natural ecosystems is everyone’s responsibility, and anyone can influence them. The will to innovate should be inside all of us. We must lose the fear to try and make new things. We must feel the adrenaline hormone in our body when we propose new actions to improve the planet. It is our obligation to step out of our comfort zone to evolve. We must dream to innovate. The future demands us to innovate, research, and develop if we want to grow as a company, both socially and economically. The planet needs us, we need the planet. We must adapt to change, we must understand the climate emergency, but above all, we must keep the hope to innovate, and ultimately, change everything.