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Casa Bloc

Hidden among the streets of Sant Andreu, there is a block of workers flats that is a little treasure: Casa Bloc. Five buildings laid out in the shape of an S that broke with the prevailing concept of social housing and have become one of the best examples of rationalist architecture in the 20th century.

Rationalist progress

Light, ventilation and hygiene. These were the three basic premises for building the Casa Bloc flats during the Second Republic, for workers who, at the time, were still living in the slums of Sant Andreu's industrial neighbourhoods. Plans were drawn up to build 200 flats, where the architects Josep Lluís Sert, Joan Baptista Subirana and Josep Torres Clavé, who belonged to the rationalist movement and were members of the GATCPAC (Group of Catalan Artists and Technicians for Progress in Contemporary Architecture), who wanted to create a clean, bright affordable environment that would make life easier for workers.

The large S formed by the five buildings consisted of maisonettes open to the exterior, which always had natural light, and there were no interior courtyards, so all the flats looked out onto the street on both sides, providing them with more effective ventilation. Each block was built on pillars to allow their inhabitants easy access and create green spaces. The project was not finished under the Republic but it was under the Franco regime. Consequently, what had originally been planned as workers' housing ended up becoming flats for army men, war widows and, later, national police officers.

A 1930s flat

The Disseny Hub de Barcelona has renovated one of the flats as a flat-museum, restoring the original hydraulic paving, the foldable doors (taken from other flats in disuse), the economical kitchens, the laundry with shower, separate toilet, and even original 1930s furniture. A flat-museum you can visit to see how rationalist architecture thought about functional houses that would bring dignity to the harsh living conditions of workers in Sant Andreu.

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