The Pisa Social Housing Project in Cornellà de Llobregat was designed by Barcelona based studio Peris + Toral Architects, and completed construction in 2021. The building offers affordable, flexible residences to the neighborhood of Cornellà just outside Barcelona. The building was recently selected as one of the five finalists in the general category of the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2022, alongside the La Borda housing cooperative in Barcelona.


This years Masters in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities MAEBB have been focusing on many of the same issues at the center of the Pisa Cornellà and La Borda projects in their studio work during the second semester. Taking advantage of the momentous occasion of the MVDR Award nomination, MAEBB took a trip to visit the exquisitely designed and detailed housing complex in hopes of learning first-hand from this newly minted contemporary architectural masterpiece.

As luck would have it, MAEBB students are in the final stages of detailing their own mid-scale residential apartment complexes for their Urban Interventions studio. The program, scale and context of Pisa Cornellà matches their own quite conveniently: 5 floors of apartments ranging various scales constructed primarily from mass timber, featuring community based non-residential programming on the ground floor and a strategy for addressing a new paradigm of communal interaction within the building. In many ways, this newly constructed project is a master-class on how to achieve all these goals in a cohesive way – Each residence feels spacious but they are compact enough to create an efficient and affordable living situation for the tenants. The central courtyard connects all the residences visually but still affords a gracious amount of private balcony facing inward, giving the effect of a streetside front stoop 5 floors in the air.

What stood out to the MAEBB students most seemed to be the way this project transformed humble materials like gabion walls, cheap metal fencing and inexpensive sidewalk tiles into refined spaces with composition and elegance. Many of the examples students have seen of ecological buildings are clad in curved glass and highly technologized facades, but this approach seemed to march in the exact opposite direction. Its humble material palate shined with the careful detailing and inspired composition techniques, impressing upon the students the value of design skill over expensive materiality.

Beyond its aesthetic value, the choice to use wood as the main structural material was at the forefront of the presentation. MAEBB students will soon have a chance to make Cross Laminated Timber panels themselves as they construct their final prototype next semester, so they made sure to ask lots of detailed questions about the assembly process, joinery methods, and insulation procedures. It became clear that using Mass Timber gave this project a great number of benefits including reducing the structural load (wood construction is far lighter than traditional concrete and steel), speeding up installation time (only few carpenters are needed to snap the panels into place), and giving enormous ecological benefits (Wood is a regenerative material, storing CO2 as it grows as opposed to the enormous carbon expense of concrete and steel).

However, there were many challenges to using wood that needed clever solutions, such as how ensure there was exposed structural wood while maintaining fire insulation standards and preventing sound from traveling from one apartment to the other since wood does not dampen acoustics as well as concrete.

The arrangement of the apartment turned into the liveliest discussion between the students and the tour guide. The guide explained that each unit of living was made up of either 6 or 9 squares of approximately 3.5m x 3.5m. No room was given spacial priority, creating a dynamic, flexible living arrangement. Furthermore, the kitchen was placed in the center of the house, queering the traditional and allegedly patriarchal tenancy to put the kitchen off to the side in a narrow space.

By adhering to these specifications, these apartments were supposed to disrupt the traditional hierarchical familial relations that are created by typical apartment layouts in Spain. Students were equally impressed and conflicted about what significance this approach had in their own work. Could simply creating an equalized geometry engender a new social paradigm? The tour guide pronounced that he could not predict what living conditions would look like in 10 or 50 years, so the best the building could offer was a flexible, equally proportioned space that could be reconfigured to accommodate whatever that future would be.

The MAEBB students finished the tour buzzing with excitement about their own studio work to be completed in the coming weeks, but also about how they could now visualize exactly the types of projects their education here at IAAC and Valldaura Labs is preparing them for. The Pisa de Cornellà de Llobregat presented an elegant, ecologically and socially conscious alternative to traditional housing that was constructed with a low budget, providing a chance for the local community to take part in the wonderful design. With this inspiration, we are looking forward to see the students proposals for this years Urban Interventions Studio final presentation.

Do you also believe that a materially exuberant and ecologically powerful design practice is key for the future? Are you eager to explore material and energy issues across disciplines and scales, taking full advantage of the unique location of Valldaura Self–Sufficient Labs?

Find out more about the Master in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities: