Barceló-Balanzó Arquitectes: CEIP Sant Roc

Schools are not simply collective architecture they gauge the drive behind local government, as demonstrated by the Barceló and Balanzó project in Olot.

I have often looked at school architecture in recent years, perhaps to metaphorically compensate for the obsolete and ongoing state of the primary school my children have been attending for five years.

In wet weather, the rain leaks onto the tables in the dining hall and the classrooms and corridors fill up with basins. We are certainly at a time of spending review, a term that in Italian schools translates into resources hovering only slightly above zero. The same does not apply to our Spanish neighbours who may share our financial strife but have, in the last few years, constructed many educational buildings that surpass Italian ones in both quality and number.

If money is scarce in both countries, why can Italy not build school architecture with the same formal research? Why do we not try to think beyond having a roof over our heads (in my children’s case, one with holes in it) beneath which to teach, study and live together? This is another matter – yet to be explored.

The entrance to the Sant Roc primary school in Olot. The primary-school block stands to the right
Born in 1971, in Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca respectively, Bàrbara Balanzó and Antoni Barceló show that it is possible to act differently in Spain. They met in Barcelona where they studied at the Escuela Técnica Superior, graduating in 1997 and 1996. Together since 1997, they have offices in Barcelona and Palma.
Top, the north-east street front; bottom, the south-west front overlooking the playground
Balanzó and Barceló often work on public buildings, accessed via design competitions. They have designed a cultural centre in Cala Ratjada, on the island of Majorca, and several social-housing complexes, specialising in recent years in educational projects – from infant and primary schools to university buildings and student residences
The north-west facade of the primary school
Olot lies north of Barcelona with a population of 33,000 and is where Balanzó and Barceló have built a primary school. This was not simply a case of erecting a public building but of intervening in a particular area, on the boundary between the suburban fabric and a protected park – the Garrotxa volcanic nature reserve, scored by prickly, barren valleys of dark soil alternating with thick woods. The architects took a site belonging, on the one hand, to the natural world and, on the other, to that of humans, and designed architecture that is a balance between the two.
The entrance roof features large round openings. The gym can be seen to the right
The building housing infant and primary schools is like a compact slab, countering the suburban banality with a continuous facade – almost resembling one of the old monasteries that mark the area with their cloistered geometry. The design has also borrowed the convent’s alternation of solids and voids with open-air patios that light up the classrooms and open out towards the large playground.
The large entrances to the gym. The walls of the communal areas are clad with dark brown bricks
The natural essence of the reserve appears in a material chosen to contrast with the reinforced concrete and inject life into the building: a through-coloured brick in the same burnt brown shade as the volcanic soil in the neighbouring park. This clay component is compact when necessary – e.g. in the textured cladding of the outer walls and those of the communal zones – and perforated along the external perimeter where light and air has to penetrate inside the building.
The entrance seen from the corridor leading to the infant school
As well as the two main materials, brick and reinforced concrete, there is a third and more playful addition: the primary school block is screened longitudinally by a close-spaced series of coloured blades in shades ranging from brown to pale and dark green, grey and yellow. To the children they will look like an array of upright pencils with which to draw the trees of the reserve facing them in autumn.
The project plays on a colour mix of concrete bands and the solid/void brick pattern

CEIP Sant Roc, Olot
Bàrbara Balanzó and Antoni Barceló, Barceló-Balanzó Arquitectes
Design team: Francesc Trillo, Julieta Esteban, Hélia Pires,
Marc Ros
Client: GISA, Gestió d’Infraestructures
Consultants for the working drawings: Rossell-Giner,
FAHE Consulting
Structural engineering: CRACK Ingeniería Catalana
Systems: Taller d’Enginyeria Ambiental
Building contractor: Construcciones RUBAU
Built area: 3,717 square metres


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