According to Greek mythology, Polyphemus was a bearded, one-eyed giant who fell in love with nereid Galatea. Ohla hotel, however, appears punctured by a thousand of intriguing as well as eloquent porcelain eyes which seem to writhe and spin round to better take pleasure in the majestic beauty of Barcelona, stretching at its feet. “The possibility to find an island in the middle of the city becomes a reality in the corner of Via Laietana and carrer Comptal. We seldom, if ever, bump into a site so full of history, located in the old traces of the Roman canal which served the needs of urban water supply and the former palace of the first Count of Barcelona, Wilfred the Hairy”, the authors of Ohla’s renovation project, Alonso & Balaguer Arquitectos, state.
The project was accomplished in 2011. Built in the 1920s and listed as Neoclassic, it was completely refurbished and converted into a 5 star hotel boutique hotel. But there is more to it. They proceeded also to the makeover of the old dividing wall facing the carrer Comptal to create a new façade and a square, thus solving the problem of the wasted space caused by the opening of Via Laietana in 1907. Over the years, the building, now a splendid hotel settled in one of the main arteries of Barcelona, has undergone successive modifications, both functional and structural. First it was home to the first department stores in the city, Can Vilardell. Later, in the 80s, “the central police station was moved in here. That was when the building suffered the most important changes, for most of the original structure was destroyed in the lower levels while the upper ones were abandoned”, the architects explain.
Although the historic façade, in a French style, was strictly respected, the architects applied a cutting-edge solution for the new façade: a smooth, anthracite stucco wall that tried to stitch in some way the wound caused by Via Laietana in the heart of the old town. Unified thanks to the windows and the singular sculptures shaped as eyes, the old and the new façade engage in a fluid dialogue that builds bridges between two different historic and artistic periods and allows for a peaceful coexistence of styles. That thousand eyes of vitreous enamel, eyes that never blink maybe because they are afraid of missing something important, are the result of the Catalan artist Frederic Amat’s vision: “My intervention is born from the will to connect two sights, that of the artist and that of the guests or the passers-by. […] Acupuncture on a building, with needles as pupils, offering the observers a constellation of eyes and their shadows. A dance of irises. Eyes that see you. Eyes to see yourself”. Thus, the building was given a unique touch but without damaging its physiognomy.
The hotel rooftop, crowned by a magnificent two-story loggia with a dome, has a glass swimming pool, surrounded by designer deck chairs and chill-out sofas. Recently, some pieces of the Lapala collection by Lievore Altherr Molina were added to this space: the bar stools leaning out the balustrade and the armchairs around the tables where it is possible to have à la carte breakfast or savour a cocktail while enjoying the sunset over the ancient roofs of the Gòtic district. Thanks to its altitude and the absence of visual obstacles, the rooftop becomes an exceptional lookout from where it is possible to make out the unmistakable profile of the Tibidabo with the Gothic Revival towers of the Sacred Heart church silhouetted against the big blue sky and by its side, the futuristic aerial erected by Foster at the top of the neighbouring Collserola. Perhaps that is why Ohla’s mysterious eyes are never shut, mesmerized by the endless spectacle.