The history

A symbol of the Eixample restored for the city

La Carbonería, originally known as La Casa Tarragó, was designed in 1864 by Narciso Tarragó Alexandri and the master builder Antoni Valls I Galí and is thought to be the oldest building in the Eixample district of Barcelona.

In 2015, after a long and eventful history during which the building was badly damaged, La Carbonería was placed under municipal protection and declared an Asset of Urban Interest. This was not only because of the building’s age, but also due to the important historical circumstances that led to its unique form. The owners have now restored La Carbonería to its original splendour, with a project that both reclaims a fundamental part of the city’s history and benefits the local neighbourhood and environment.

Façade plan, 1862
Source: Archivo municipal Contemporáneo de Barcelona
Façade today
©Joao Gaudenzi

The Eixample, a plan surrounded by controversy

The urban expansion of Barcelona in the 19th century, which gave rise to the famous “Ensanche” or “Eixample”, was driven by significant social and political changes. These manifested in the design for La Carbonería, making it one of the most reliable testimonies of the historical moment when the city chose its path of transformation towards becoming the modern city we know today.

Two urban plans were on the table: the radial design by the architect Antoni Rovira i Trias, whose approach was to emphasise symbolic spaces and to separate social classes; and, the design by Ildefons Cerdà, a progressive engineer and politician who offered a holistic and egalitarian approach.

Army plan from 1870 showing La Carbonería (yellow ellipse) before the city’s expansion
Source: Informe històric-artistic de l’edifici del carrer Urgell 30 de Barcelona de Enric Granell en “Modificació puntual del Pla Especial de Protecció del Patrimoni Arquitectónic Historic-Artistic de la Ciutat de Barcelona (Districte de L’Eixample a la Finca de C/Urgell, 30 [La Carboneria] de novembre 2015, del Ayuntamiento de Barcelona).
Plan of the Eixample development in Barcelona (1859) by Idefons Cerdà, site of La Carbonería in yellow ellipse
Source: the (online), Archives of the Kingdom of Aragon, Barcelona

It took many years for the final decision to be reached and for Cerdà’s plan to be implemented. In the meantime, Narciso Tarragó Alexandri wished to build a residential building on his plot of land where La Carbonería now stands. The Camino de Ronda street ran alongside the medieval defensive wall and crossed directly through Alexandri’s plot. As a result, the architectural design of La Carbonería was highly influenced by the prevailing uncertainty as to which urban plan would be implemented: the design of the Cerdà blocks, which would bury the Camino de Ronda, or Rovira I Trias’ plan which included the creation of a new and important boulevard which would follow the Camino de Ronda’s existing route.

La Carbonería, in the eye of the storm

Narciso Tarragó Alexandri had to find an architectural solution to this dilemma if he did not want to wait indefinitely for the authorities’ decision. The answer was a design never to be repeated in the Eixample with two façades: a main one at Cerda’s intersection or “chamfer” of the two streets, and another facing the old Camino de Ronda and proposed boulevard. In this way, construction could start on La Carbonería regardless of which plan was implemented.

Site of La Carbonería in the Rovira I Trias’ city project, showing the new boulevard (Plan by Garriga I Roca from 1862)
Site of La Carbonería in part of Ildefons Cerdà’s city project (1865)
Source: Informe històric-artistic de l’edifici del carrer Urgell 30 de Barcelona de Enric Granell

This solution had two key consequences. On the one hand, it considerably reduced the dimensions of the project. Thus, La Carbonería was built 8 metres wide, compared to the average of 20-23 metres in the Eixample and making it probably the narrowest building in this renowned district. On the other hand, this design brought better natural light into the apartments by increasing the number of windows, despite the fact that the fourth façade to the Camino de Ronda was ultimately “hidden” due to the implementation of Cerdà’s block design.

Years of decline and a new renaissance

There is little written about the building during the first half of the 20th century, apart from the fact that the coal company – which gave it the popular name of “La Carbonería” – closed its shutters in the 1950’s. Over the following decades, the historical character of the building was gradually forgotten, and its complete demolition was even considered.

Between 2008 and 2014, it was used as a self-managed social centre. Subsequently, it was closed and changed ownership on several occasions, giving way to years of abandonment and deterioration, impacting upon the local neighbourhood.

In 2015, the municipal council declared the building an Asset of Urban Interest due to its distinctive architectural character and high historical value. Two years later, Lesing LWP Spain acquired La Carbonería with the aim of renovating the property, restoring this unique historical value, and thereby also supporting the revival of the social and urban fabric of this area of the Eixample.

Front and rear façades today, after renovation
©Adria Goula
©Simona Rota