La Casa por el Tejado works in, that most ambiguous of terms, ‘property development’. But rather than throwing up low cost housing on Barcelona’s periphery or converting old warehouse to trendy lofts, these people have gone straight for the solomillo – the rooftops of Barcelona.
In a nutshell La Casa por el Tejado negotiates with the community of owners in period buildings in Barcelona to buy their rooftop – which it then uses to build luxury penthouses for foreign (principally ex-Soviet) buyers. The purpose of their email was to brag about a junket they held in the luxurious Hotel Mandarin Oriental, where they presented their project to a rapturous crowd. Whilst this may seem all well and good in a neo-capitalist market, a little context is needed.
La Casa por el Tejado has their eyes on the greatest urban prize of all – Barcelona’s Eixample neighbourhood. The Eixample (or ‘Extension’ in Catalan) was planned in the mid-18th century by one Idelfons Cerdá. The engineer had the enlightened idea of laying out streets on a grid system - a notion obvious now but revolutionary for the time. Although it has developed into Barcelona’s most bourgeois hood (and arguably its most beautiful – this where Gaudí and his contempories threw up their singular art nouveu fantasies) it wasn’t meant to be that way. Cerdá conceived the Eixample as an urban utopia; a place where the middle classes could find camaraderie in is relentless uniformity, wide streets and community gardens. He also put a height cap of 16 metres on each building.
Under Spanish property law, the roof of an apartment block is communal – it belongs, in equal parts, to all the residents. It’s a place where they hang out their washing, meet to chat, or lay in the sun. And although non of them can be blamed for wanting to earn an extra buck and god knows the local building sector could do with a boost after the 2008 crash, the proposition of La Casa por el Tejado just seems well, unsavoury. What next? Weekender pods on the balconies? Souvenir shops in the lift shafts?
Curiously enough, on the same day I received another piece of news regarding plans for Barcelona’s rooftops. In a much more heartening and imaginative scheme, the local council is offering property owners partial funding to turn their rooftops into communal ‘green zones’. If I had it, I know where I would much rather throw my money.