Transformation of the warehouse building to social housing and cultural complex

Barcelona, Spain Construction and Development, Environment and Resource efficiency
Responsible Housing Award



The transformation project of the warehouse building of the old industrial complex of Fabra & Coats in Barcelona is included in the process of the city recovery. This textile complex of the XIX and XX centuries will bring to the Sant Andreu district more than 28,000 m2 of facilities and social dwellings, and at the same time, it is part of the “BCN creation factories” network.

The Fabra & Coats complex was the first to emerge from a partnership between Catalan (Fabra) and British (Coats) industrialists, and it is also the first to include social housing in the regeneration of an industrial heritage site. The preservation of architectural heritage is not incompatible with the achievement of social and environmental objectives. On the contrary, urban recycling can be an ally in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the New Urban Agenda and the European Green Deal.

  1. The original building is 100m long, where the first decision was to bring the value of its maximum dimension, which is the length. We access through the centre creating an interior square where the promenade of the interior stairs begins in diagonal double ascending.
  2. The new construction is by assemblage, it is a dry construction with just a few materials, as in the original industrial building. Wood is used in all its forms: solid, agglomerated, cross-laminated, etc. Materials are joined as if it was a textile. To sew and un-sew, the new construction by its character and assemblage can be assembled and disassembled, so it is “reversible”.
  3. Façade and roof of the building as a thermic buffer for the housing units. The new housing units are placed separated from the façade and the original roof of the building, with a new wooden façade. The in-between space is created to circulate the air; therefore, the housing units do not require the air conditioning the most part of the year.
  4. Industrial heritage + social housing + cultural complex. The communal spaces of the vestibule can be occupied in a completely free way, giving space to the relationship between the neighbours, where the exchange of ideas and the common use of spaces are part of the everyday life of the occupants.

Actors involved

  • Can Fabra


By mixing refurbishment and new construction using nature-based and recyclable materials, Can Fabra provides a good example of how to reconcile design and sustainability. At the same time, its social use as affordable youth housing and training facility for Castellers proves that innovation can benefit all of society, and it should do so if we want to ensure that the energy transition leaves no one behind.

Beyond general results and learnings, Can Fabra also provides an interesting case study for the recycling of obsolete industrial facilities. In the era of deindustrialisation and digital transition, European cities will have to cope with an increasing number of abandoned industrial and commercial buildings for which the climate crisis will compel us to find a second use. Addressing this phenomenon as an opportunity to generate sustainable, mixed, and diverse communities is a moral obligation towards our own society and the planet as a whole.

Why it works

Fabra & Coats lightweight, dry and reversible construction for heritage rehabilitation

  1. Lightweight construction

New structure and wooden facades to avoid having to reinforce the structure of the heritage warehouse. The wooden structure, 5 times lighter than one made of steel, allows not to exceed the 1,100kg /m2 capacity of the original building.

  1. Activates the original building

Use of all the load-bearing and thermal capacities of the original building for the new use of social housing

  1. Elastic joints between the existing building and the new construction

The structure of the warehouse and each part of the new construction move freely and independently, thus also solving the acoustic insulation between houses.

  1. Rehabilitation instead of new construction
  2. Reversible construction as a response to heritage

In the future, it will be possible to return to the original state of the building by disassembling all the assemblies of the new construction.

  1. Consumption reduction in construction

Reduction of CO2 74%.

  1. Energy demand reduction

Energy rating: A

Tools used

Mixing renovation and sustainable new construction, Can Fabra achieves a low carbon footprint mainly due to the use of nature- based recyclable materials. Of the total surface area of the project, 54% is refurbished while 46% is newly created.

Through urban recycling, Can Fabra achieves the preservation of industrial heritage while offering solutions to contemporary housing needs. It does so by combining design and comfort, while at the same time being aware of the need to reduce the resource and energy impacts of the project.


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