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A roof between two worlds

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A large part of the Institute of Ocular Microsurgery is located underground on the hill of Collserola. In this building, the roof – the fifth façade in modern architecture – becomes the main facade. Covered with VMZinc, Quartz-zinc surface, it gives the feel of Origami.

The Ronda de Dalt can be seen simply as Barcelona’s version of the circular boulevards that surround all cities. But for architect Josep Llinás, who built the new Institute of Ocular Microsurgery on the edge of this thoroughfare, this upgraded ring road has an entirely different meaning. It marks the border between the city and the countryside, beyond which lie the tree-covered hills of Collserola, on whose green slopes constructions – like the Norman Foster telecommunication tower – are sparse.

Interpreting the site in a way that likens the infrastructure to a border was crucial to the design of the building. As the plot allocated to the clinic is situated facing the countryside, Llinás wanted to make it disappear into the surrounding landscape and embedded it into the hillside. Seen from the Ronda, the Institute is more reminiscent of some Andalucian cave architecture than the buildings with repetitive layouts that have too often been the lot of hospital architecture.

The institute has no facade, or rather has a porous facade, an intermediary space occupied by the access ramps that connect the different levels of land. The external roofs protect the glazed facade from the assaults of the sun. All spaces accessible to the public have a view of the city. The centre of Barcelona appears in the distance, through a series of huge sculptural white pillars that resemble the columns of gypsum quarries. Located in this space, at the lower end of the hill, a dark pond reflects the roofs of the building, introducing a vertical dimension into this horizontal space.

Eye medicine must be practised in low luminosity and the majority of the clinic is located underground. It vanishes below the immense roof, made of folds and a mixture of gentle, abrupt, long and short slopes, like an origami of zinc transformed by the double requirement of the slope and the organisation of medical circuits. Seen from the heights of Collserola, this “5th façade” of modern architecture is both a sculpture and a geological event. Seen from the inside of the building, it appears and disappears, lets the light in through numerous apertures, creating a feast – appropriately – for the eyes.

One of zinc’s major advantages, its ability to cover mild slopes, has been applied here with a graphic texture, transforming the roof into an abstract landscape. The guttering has been replaced by customised rectilinear channels that encompass the framework formed by the standing seams running along the most steeply sloping lines. Zinc is flexible enough to follow the different slopes of the roof, making do without the channels on certain articulations, if required.


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