An Eco-Friendly Sports Facility Unites Games and Community

The Turó de la Peira Sports Center brings new amenities and a splash of green to a working-class neighborhood of Barcelona.
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The Turó de la Peira Sports Center in the working-class suburbs of Barcelona is sheathed in a wire trellis that supports plant life. Courtesy Enric Duch

If you are one of the millions of visitors to Barcelona each year, chances are you will never set foot in the Nou Barris district. The “New Neighborhoods” were established in the decades between the 1960s and 1970s, on the upper slopes of the city where hilly terrain morphs into the Collserola natural park that envelopes the city to the north.

The Nou Barris were constructed to accommodate a huge influx of immigrants, mainly from rural southern Spain, that arrived in Barcelona, the capital of the prosperous north, to work in factories. They were accommodated in densely packed, formulaic high-rises wedged between natural slopes and the odd remains—churches, and early 19th century villas—of historic villages.

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The saline swimming pool on the center’s ground floor cuts back on chemicals, while mass timber beams hold up the ball court upstairs. Courtesy Enric Duch

Nou Barris has since retained a feisty blue collar spirit; with a mixture of Andalusian working class families and new immigrants, mostly from Latin America. Largely neglected by the local authorities, Nou Barris has for years lacked the city’s generally excellent public services; locals famously had to fight for bus lines to take them home and an extension of the metro network to the Nou Barris has only just been completed. Now that property prices are pushing people out of central Barcelona, there are further signs that the public purse is more open to invest in the city’s outer limits. One wonderful example is the new Turó de la Peira Polideportivo (Sports Center) by local architects Anna Noguera and Javier Fernández.

The primary aim of the project was to unite and rebuild two separate pre-existing, but dilapidated, infrastructures; a public swimming pool and an indoor playing field for the local football club, “two absolutely horrible buildings,” in the words of Noguera, whose proposal was chosen via public competition. The other was to create an oasis in this hyper-urban pocket of Nou Barris, and render it with a natural type of harmony not normally associated with public sports facilities.

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Natural light filters through the building’s greenery to illuminate the ball court. Courtesy Enric Duch

The polideportivo, takes shape over two levels; an indoor swimming pool, which is partially sunk into the hillside of the site, and an indoor court for ball games, which occupies the upper floor. This is accessed via an exterior ramp sheltered by the design’s most appealing exterior feature; a metal framework that supports hanging plants and foliage. Landscaping around the exterior further reinforces the ‘urban oasis’ feel desired by the architects.

The indoor pool features an elegant roof constructed of 85-foot-long timber beams logged from, and prefabricated in, sustainably managed Basque forests and workshops. A large window onto the exterior garden (and curious passersby) lets in natural light, which together with the wooden beams and partitions makes for a meditative aquatic experience. The pool’s water is saline, avoiding the need for chlorine, and heated with photovoltaic  panels in the roof. The timber beams have been treated against termites but not for humidity. As Noguera points out, this is only necessary when moisture levels vary, such as in outdoor environments. “This is also why we chose natural solid timber,” she adds. “And not cheaper, highly-processed laminated wood.”

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A cross-section of the building shows how the pool was partially sunk below grade. Courtesy Enric Duch

This combination of natural light and materials is extended to the sports court on the upper floor; skylights illuminate games and training sessions, and timber elements—beams, partitions, and stadium seating—feature the same sustainable credentials as the downstairs pool. On top, it is devoid of heating and cooling systems. Designed on the principles of passive architecture, the configuration of the skylights and lateral windows are adjusted via a robotic system; opened for letting in cool air, and closed for trapping warmth.

During the three-year construction process, the architects and management held special open-door events, inviting locals to come and view their progress and understand the sport center’s sustainable program; an initiative Noguera deemed important for its acceptance, and ultimate success, in this historically disadvantaged community.

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Categories: Architecture, Sustainability