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Reinhabiting Urban Space

Alta Diagonal

By Brian Gallagher 16.01.14

Le Corbusier’s urban planning proposal for a radical new Barcelona (the Plan Macia which would have involved the destruction of the Raval and the Gòtico) dating back to 1933 never came to anything because of historical circumstances. The nearest Barcelona came to this vision however must surely be the post Franco architectural language of Avenida Diagonal with its high rise commercial and residential buildings that in terms of light and space are literally worlds away from the Casco Antigua.

Alta Diagonal or the Caja Madrid as it was known previously is a typical building of its period, an iconic structure that heralds a post industrial period where future prosperity was to be predicated on finance and service sectors. Sheer facades, exuberant use of glass and the geometric lines of Italian Futurists. The building was purchased in 2010 by Deka Immobilien Investment GmbH, a German based property investment company (who are also the proprietors of El Triangle shopping centre and the Le Méridien Barcelona hotel). They soon commissioned a refurbishment project by architect Jordi Badia the result of which has returned an important atrium space back to the public realm in this privileged area of Barcelona. 


    Located at 640 Avenida Diagonal, Alta Diagonal is one of the most important business hubs in Barcelona. With eight floors of offices (a total of 22,000 sq.m.) a working population of around 2,000 people this building is situated within at the epicentre of Catalan commerce with some of the most influential national and international companies as tenants.


    Alta Diagonal is an architectural icon and one of the most emblematic buildings of the city. Designed by local architects Fargas & Tous (see also Barcelona Royal) it was constructed during the 90s defined by a combination of contradictory concepts: sea / mountains, commerce / lifestyle, activity / serenity, interior / exterior. Without sacrificing this legacy and vision of a commercial building Alta Diagonal has been recently been completely remodelled by award winning architect Jordi Badia in order to confront the new challenges of a different commercial world.


    The refurb involved the complete overhaul of the building in order to improve its energy efficiency, reduce maintenance costs, qualify for Gold LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and update its public image. The project involved the complete replacement of the air-conditioning system as well as specific interventions to the facade and communal areas, especially access to the lobby. The strategy was to remove all items added subsequently to the original project over the years in order to achieve brighter, more modern and comfortable spaces through the use of white and wood cladding.


    All interior areas of the building; central atrium, lobby and office floors were re-imagined to update their appearance and functionality to the digital age. Significant changes involving improved transparency and luminosity of the central atrium; a closer the relationship between inside and out, providing the building with a new cafeteria, conference rooms and offices, as well as improvements in terms of materials and finishes to communal areas. A new garden layout featuring autochthonous plants provides an oasis of calm within this frenetic neighbourhood, reduces water consumption and provides workers with a place to take a meditative break.


    The architectural practice Fargas & Tous was commissioned to design the building during the 1990s. Several of their works have been awarded Delta Industrial Design awards by FAD Interior Design and Architecture. Highlights of their architectural oeuvre include Barcelona landmarks such as Ballvé House (1961), the headquarters of Banca Catalana Passeig de Gracia (1968), Balmes (1974) and Diagonal (1980), Banco Industrial de Bilbao, now the headquarters for Editorial Planeta (1971) and the Banco Pastor (1982).

  • View of the new cafe space on the ground floor open to the general public

  • The atrium of the refurbished building now open to the public

  • View of the planted gardens behind the building accessed from the cafe area