Meritxell Inaraja’s restoration of a 1936 hub for trade unionists by Josep Lluís Sert helps grow businesses in Gavà, Barcelona

Revisiting Sert

Meritxell Inaraja’s restoration of a 1936 hub for trade unionists by Josep Lluís Sert helps grow businesses in Gavà, Barcelona

Just outside Barcelona in the city of Gavà is a 1936 building by Joseph Lluis Sert and Josep Torres Clavé. (Adrià Goula/Courtesy Meritxell Inaraja)

By 1934 in Spain, trade unionists had mounted a powerful, concerted campaign against the rising tides of European fascism. That year, a revolution took place where partisans wrestled power from fascist Spanish parliamentarians. Later, an important center of this militant activity throughout the Spanish Civil War was the Unió de Cooperadors building in Gavà, a small city a few miles south of Barcelona next to its airport, designed by Josep Lluís Sert and Josep Torres Clavé as members of Group of Catalan Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture (GATCPAC).

Original concept drawing (Courtesy Meritxell Inaraja)

Completed in 1936, the Bauhaus-inspired edifice served as a headquarters for industrial workers, trade unionists, and resistance fighters trying to thwart Franco throughout the Spanish Civil War. Under Franco’s rule, which lasted until 1975 and crushed Spanish trade unionism, Unió de Cooperadors was co-opted for ulterior uses. Now after years of neglect, it’s been restored to its original state by the municipality of Barcelona and Meritxell Inaraja, a Barcelona architect.

Facade restoration (Adrià Goula/Courtesy Meritxell Inaraja)

At Unió de Cooperadors, completed 2021, the architect paid special attention to restoring the building’s original stucco facade and its emblematic signage on the exterior that spells out Unió de Cooperadors in bold font. While the building’s physical renovation stayed true to the original form prescribed by Sert and Clavé, its function changed. The Unió de Cooperadors building now serves as a hub for young entrepreneurs and tech workers.

Terrace (Adrià Goula/Courtesy Meritxell Inaraja)

Aside from a new elevator that was added to the building’s core to comply with Barcelona’s accessibility codes, the renovation by Meritxell Inaraja leaves the original design in tact. “When designing this building, located on the Rambla de Gav, Sert started from the function for which it was conceived; a space that inside should promote synergies and collaboration, and open to the outside to be a catalyst for the town. The result is a work that applies the principles of rationalist architecture,” Inaraja said.

The Unió de Cooperadors building uses a free plan, a clear nod from Sert to his mentor Le Corbusier. A rounded stairwell fronts the street elevation connecting the three-story building, which also features an accessible roof terrace added as a nod to the work of Le Corbusier.

Stairwell (Adrià Goula/Courtesy Meritxell Inaraja)

“The human dimensions of the project are a clear influence of the Bauhaus School,” Inaraja continued. “The current project responds to the need to rehabilitate an emblematic building that was completed in 1936 and soon suffered the consequences of the Civil War, losing its original use. The objective of the rehabilitation is to recover the function for which it was conceived, adapting it to the needs and present context.”