The APROP building being nearly completed in the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona, Source: Straddle3

The NEB prize was an important contribution to the ongoing debate on housing policies in Barcelona

The NEB prize was an important contribution to the ongoing debate on housing policies in Barcelona

A conversation with Javier Burón and Lluís Torrens from the Barcelona City Council, who are behind a project that tackles excessive gentrification

This week, we are speaking to Javier Burón (Housing Manager) and Lluís Torrens (Social Innovation Director), two representatives from the Barcelona City Council who are behind the innovative APROP project that has found a way to quickly mobilize available space in the city centre. Its aim is to prevent families, who are in precarious conditions and urgent need of housing, from becoming marginalized. Straddle 3 is an architectural company that was one of the enterprises responsible for the building´s design and construction.

You won in the category “Modular, adaptable and mobile living solutions". Can you describe the essence of APROP Ciutat Vella in a few sentences?

APROP (an acronym for Temporary Social Housing, also meaning nearby in Catalan) is a model of fast, sustainable and high-quality housing built using recycled shipping containers. The purpose of APROP is to provide local housing opportunities to vulnerable households that are being displaced as a result of ongoing gentrification in central city districts of Barcelona, such as Ciutat Vella.

APROP Ciutat Vella is already in operation and it includes 8 one-bedroom and 4 two-bedroom units in a 5-storey building on a 186 sqm plot of public land. The building has been praised for its innovative architectural design as well as its light environmental footprint.

APROP building

The APROP building defies expectations with its attractive design.
Source: Barcelona Housing Department

What are the project’s benefits for the community? Are there specific target audiences?

APROP provides a temporary housing solution for households on the waiting list to access a permanent housing solution, either in public rental housing or other affordable housing programs. It serves the local population which lost their homes as a result of displacement and is, therefore, a direct response to gentrification.

In addition to the direct beneficiaries of the dwellings, APROP contributes to the social mixture of the city by having the potential to be developed in very different contexts. The City is currently working on the construction of two additional APROP projects, and its goal is to create similar projects in the 10 city districts.

How does it meet the 3 NEB principles of sustainability, inclusion and aesthetics?

APROP has an AA energy certification with an energy consumption of 25 kWh/sqm/year coming entirely from renewable energies so that its emissions during use are almost zero. During construction, it reduced waste by 70% and CO2 emissions by 32% compared to conventional construction methods. Use of “last trip” high-cube 40 ft. shipping containers allowed to save 4000kWh (non-renewable energy) per container vs. 400kWh (renewable energy) to adapt them to a housing solution.

APROP construction

The construction phase of the building shows the repurposed containers.
Source: Barcelona Housing Department

The centrally-located vacant plot where APROP was installed also contributes to sustainable use of urban land, since the site is well served by public transit and public facilities of all sorts. Residents can rely exclusively on sustainable means of transport, such as bicycles, subway, buses, trains and walking.

In terms of inclusiveness, APROP provides a safety net to vulnerable households facing eviction while contributing to the social mixture of the city and preventing social segregation.

Regarding its aesthetics and design, APROP blends in with its surroundings by using building techniques that adapt the modular structure to the architectural and volumetric configuration of neighbouring buildings. Its modern appearance and comfort are a source of pride and identity for its residents and the neighbourhood community at large.

What was the subsequent effect of winning the NEB Prize for your project?

The NEB prize was an important contribution to the ongoing debate on housing policies in Barcelona. This recognition convinced us of the need to accelerate the deployment of more APROP projects in the city, while also encouraging us to think beyond the current construction solutions and into other modular sustainable techniques, both in new construction and renovation.

APROP interior

The interior of the flats presents all the comfort and amenities of conventional buildings.
Source: Barcelona Housing Department

What specific and local circumstances inspired the creation of your idea?

The need for affordable housing options in central locations was the main reason behind the conceptualization of APROP. Besides the local social and economic challenges in Ciutat Vella district, the availability of spaces of opportunity within the consolidated urban fabric was also one of the elements that inspired this project.

In that sense, APROP is able to maximize these spaces of opportunity by using a specific urban planning code that allows for the development of temporary housing solutions in plots zoned for both residential and non-residential uses. In addition, the potential for disassembly and re-accommodation in a different plot means that the project can be developed in locations that are only available temporarily.

How applicable is it to other European localities? Can it be scaled up?

APROP is already being scaled up in Barcelona with the construction of two additional projects with 40 and 42 housing units. The City is also in the process of developing several industrialized public housing projects relying on other modular construction solutions.

Given the use of shipping containers, APROP has the potential to be implemented in any other city across the World.



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