In a city so famous for architecture and landmark buildings, Barcelona’s Francesc Macià 10 blazes its own path to architectural equity

Francesc Macià 10, the ‘Casa de las Cejas’ or ‘Eyebrows Building”

Barcelona is the home of Antoni Gaudí and the Catalan moderniste style of architecture for which the city is world-famous, but Francesc Macià 10 shows how unique design from a different oeuvre can earn its place in a city’s skyline, and become a valued landmark alongside homegrown styles. 

Francesc Macià 10 did not arrive on the scene without controversy. According to local press reports from the 1960s there were “animated disagreements” about the building’s design from the very start of construction in 1966, when it became clear that conforming to its surroundings was not on the agenda. Whilst all the other buildings around the Plaza Calvo Sotelo, as Francesc Macià was then known, had a concave-curved classical façade creating a circle around the plaza, Francesc Macià 10 stuck its convexed modernist façade outwards against the grain. The building’s defiant lack of conformity ruffled feathers in some circles when Spain was still living under a hidebound dictatorship.

The hostility did not last. By the time the building was inaugurated as the Spanish head office of the Switzerland’s Winterthur insurance company with a lavish party on the 29th of November 1969 attended by Barcelona’s high-society, the Casa de la Cejas or “eyebrows building” as it had become popularly known due to the curved canopies over its windows, had become an admired feature of the Barcelona skyline, according to press reports from the time.

Barcelona Francesc Macia 10's La Oca restaurant
La Oca restaurant in the commercial premises of the ground floor was one of Barcelona’s hippest and trendiest venues for many years after it opened with the inauguration of the building. The building’s iconic status as an emblem of modernity helped La Oca attract the city’s trendsetters.

As Edwin Heathcote, the architecture and design critic of The Financial Times says of Francesc Macià 10, “controversial from the moment it was designed, the building has settled into the cityscape and the civic consciousness, to the extent that it is now listed and fondly regarded as an eccentric, elegant and oddly fashionable-looking structure in one of the city’s most prominent places.”

In fact, Francesc Macià 10 played an important role in the return of modern architecture to Barcelona after the Civil War. Though some fine examples were built before the war, the dire economic and cultural situation of Spain after the war prevented anything new or ambitious being built in Barcelona until the 1960s, when the economic and social situation started to improve. Financed by a Swiss insurance company, with a prestigious Swiss architect prepared to break the mould, Francesc Macià 10 was the first modern building to make its debut in Barcelona after the Civil War. It represented progress and modernity, and became an iconic building for its time in the Catalan capital.

Marc J. Saugey architect of Francesc Macià 10 Barcelona
Swiss architect Marc J. Saugey pictured at work, 1951 (photo Franz Villiger)

Not just unique for its time in Barcelona, Francesc Macià 10 is also a stand-out work for the architect Marc-Joseph Saugey, an important player on the design scene in his home-town Geneva, where he was an influential member of the Urban Planning Commission, a professor at the University of Geneva, and founder of an architectural firm that designed and built Geneva landmarks such as the Hôtel du Rhône, the Terraux-du-Temple, and the Mont-Blanc Center, along with a number of international projects.

Saugey had a reputation for strictly-modern design, some might say brutalist form. As Heathcote says of Saugey, “in most of his work, he was a quite severe modernist fond of simple lines and rigorously geometrical blocks.” Francesc Macià 10 is arguably one of his most soft and feminine works, with its flowing lines and almost absence of angles and corners.

Francesc Macià 10 gets a Brazilian facelift

When Francesc Macià 10 was redesigned for residential use in 2013 by visionary Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan, another layer of architectural equity was added to the building. “No contemporary architect better embodies the qualities of modern Brazilian architecture than Marcio Kogan,” says the design-bible Wallpaper magazine. 

Marcio Kogan is founder of the award-winning MK27 studio, a São Paulo-based firm that helped develop the Brazilian modernist style. Describing his work as “architecture in cinematic widescreen” Kogan could not resist the panoramic vistas of Francesc Macià 10, and the challenge of working with a building that was “100 percent curves.”. 

Along with redesigning the communal areas in his trademark “classic but contemporary style” fitted out with exquisite materials such as rods of dark American walnut and brass that line the walls throughout the building, Kogan has given the exteriors of Francesc Macià 10 a facelift that pays homage to Saugey’s modern and brutalist leanings in the concrete, whilst adding a sultry Brazilian touch to the façade. The result is a fine example of Kogan’s style of fusing modern architecture like Saugey’s with Brazilian modernist influences in pursuit of designs that work harmoniously with their environments. 

If architectural equity represents investment value created for owners by professional reputations, the way those reputations for design and excellence are manifested in specific buildings, and the scarcity of the architect’s work, then Francesc Macià 10 can boast its fair share of architectural equity. It has played an iconic role in the return of modern architecture to Barcelona after the civil war, and will always occupy a unique position in the history of Barcelona’s cityscape, where it remains one of a kind with its unique design and prime location.

Find out more about Francesc Macià 10 Barcelona.