Site Visit to the Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona

by Kent Diebolt

In  mid-December of  2010, I travelled to Barcelona where Derek Trelstad, of Robert Silman Associates and I  were given a tour of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in the Eixample, near Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. We were hosted by Jose Luis Gonzalez and Gloria Riba, both of whom I first met in 2004 when I was invited to speak at a conference on masonry vaulting sponsored by COAC, the Catalan equivalent of our AIA.

Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, main entrance to World Heritage Site campus.

The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Barcelona designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, whom the New York Times recently described as  “Barcelona’s Other Architect”.  The article, which coincidentally ran a week after my return from Spain, can be found here. NYTimes 12/19/10

The historic, modernist hospital complex has become redundant due to construction of a new building to the north of the site. The entire historic campus is currently either under renovation or scheduled for restoration. Jose Luis was selected to undertake investigations of the Sant Manuel pavilion, which will house the new United Nations University Alliance of Civilizations campus. At the time of our visit, the Sant Manuel pavilion project was nearing completion of the demolition phase of work, with structural investigations scheduled to begin in early 2011.

There are abundant examples of Catalan/timbrel (Guastavino) vaulting throughout the hospital campus, including a very curious detail that forms the surface of the gabled roof. Neither Derek nor I had seen this previously, and it’s not clear what the rest of the roof deck assembly that supports the tile roof surface looks like. Probes of this location will be undertaken this winter under the direction of Jose Luis and Gloria, so more will be known shortly.

The Hospital de Sant Pau campus is also the location of a rare Catalan dome failure, which occurred in April 2004. The cause was corrosion failure of the tension ring at the base of the dome. Apparently, the dome’s roof tiles were being replaced and had assumed some of the

El pavello de la Merce

El pavello de la Merce, reconstructed dome.

outwardly-thrusting loads at. Upon their removal, the dome failed in tension and the lantern plunged down through the crowded maternity ward waiting room coming to rest in the basement. Chairs were arranged around the perimeter of the circular room and their astonished occupants were unharmed, though presented with a gaping hole mere feet away from them.

This was a very interesting site visit, in light of the fact that it was designed and built during the early days of the R Guastavino Company. This refutes Rafael the elder’s claim that he was principally responsible for re-inventing this vaulting technique in Spain.

Derek and I thank both Jose Luis and Gloria for their warm friendship and hospitality.

Hospital de Sant Pau tile roof-deck

Hospital de Sant Pau tile roof-deck; note brick arch laid on top of thin tile arch on which the lightweight steel purlins (6-8 inch "I" shapes) bear.

Gloria Riba and Jose Luis Gonzalez

Gloria Riba and Jose Luis Gonzalez

Gutted interior of Sant Manuel Pavilion

Gutted interior of Sant Manuel Pavilion Note the second floor structure that was not original and shallow diagonal tension tie embedded in the tile arch in the foreground.