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THE MOST ICONIC AND TECHNOLOGICALLY SAVVY SKYSCRAPER IN BARCELONA

Torre Glòries lit up at Llum BCN 2020

It stands out on the Barcelona skyline like a sore thumb. Literally. Everyone seems to have their own nickname for it. Most that I know of won’t be mentioned here, but I’m sure you can venture a guess as to the common thread amongst them. It’s the iconic Torre Glòries or, as many still call it, Torre Agbar.

Standing at 142 meters tall, Torre Glòries is one of the tallest buildings in Barcelona; to be precise, it’s the third tallest behind the Hotel Arts and the Mapfre Tower, Barcelona’s twin towers, which are 154 meters tall. Torre Glòries houses 30 open-plan floors — no columns dividing their useable space — and four technical floors, which control the building’s management systems; it also has four subterranean floors. Each floor has a free height of between 2.6 and 3 meters and their workstations receive natural light from the 4,400 windows, covered by 59,619 translucent slats, which run along the entire perimeter of the façade. The glass sheets blanketing the façade are adjustable blinds and tinted in different colors. On the lower part of the tower, the colors are warm, and, as the tower rises in height, the colors become cooler. The reason for this will become more apparent in a moment.

View of Torre Glòries at night with Sagrada Família in background
The Glòries Tower at night with the Sagrada Família and Besòs Tower

Torre Glòries has a total area of 50,693 square meters. Of these, 27,090 square meters are dedicated to offices located above ground; the rest of the square meterage is reserved for technical facilities, services (bathrooms, meeting areas, conference rooms, activity zone, cafeteria, restaurant and dining room), an auditorium and an underground parking garage. The tower is made up of 25,000 cubic meters of concrete and 250,000 kilos of steel; it consists of two dense concrete modules, one central and one peripheral. The peripheral cylinder is elliptical in shape while the central one is egg-shaped. But enough with its technical specifications.

Probably most noteworthy is the tower’s playful light show it puts on display every night. The colorful dance between red and blue — or others, depending on the holiday (red and green over the Christmas holidays, for example) — will attract attention whether you find yourself in the 22@, Barcelona’s technological district, or have a building with a view of the cylindric tower from anywhere around the city.

View of the imposing nature of Torre Glòries height
As the third tallest building in Barcelona, Torre Glòries is imposing.

In order to achieve the spectacle, there are more than 100 LED units distributed around every floor. Each LED unit has 255 different intensities, with the capacity to display more than 16 million colors, spending only 10% of the energy that a traditional system would need; the tower was designed to be efficient and take advantage of solar energy and groundwater, thus reducing energy consumption and helping the environment. The central control for the LED system is a huge server that monitors 20,000 signals of light, air conditioning, valve management, etc. Every single light has its own cable, allowing a play with the changes of color and intensity in such a way that it can be used as a huge screen, where each LED is a pixel serving to create any type of drawing or combination of colors on the tower. Needless to say, it packs a lot of power. These lights, coupled with the tinted glass slats mentioned earlier, combine to produce an incredible display at night.

Torre Agbar illuminated at Llum BCN 2019 light show
Torre Agbar at Llum BCN 2019

Now, you might be wondering, why did the designers decide on that shape? Well, if you’ve ever decided to take the R5 train for a day at Montserrat, the answer was all around you: the shape of the sierra’s rock formations. Jean Nouvel and Fermín Vázquez designed the building in homage to Montserrat mountain, as well as Gaudí’s Sagrada Família (its bell towers), both much beloved by Catalans; Montserrat is home to Barcelona’s patroness saint, La Mare de Deu de Montserrat (Our Lady of Montserrat), and Gaudí is, well, Gaudí.

The rock formations at Montserrat
The rock formations at Montserrat

In addition, the two were also inspired by whom would be the building’s main tenant: Aigües de Barcelona, the city’s water company. Thus, the shape was in part devised to evoke the image of a geyser blasting water into the air.

Construction of the tower lasted six years and cost 130 million euros. The company responsible for its construction was Dragados; 1,174 people collaborated on the project.

Upon its completion, the tower was named Torre Agbar because it was the home of the Aigües de Barcelona (Agbar) headquarters. The building officially opened in June 2005, and the water company’s offices would remain there for the following ten years. There were other companies that found a home inside the tower during those years: the free newspaper ADN, the IT company Bull, and Mediapro, for instance. Ultimately, though, each of them ended up having to search for offices elsewhere due to the space’s impracticality.

Glimpse of Torre Agbar from inside Poblenou Cemetery
Glimpse of the tower from inside Poblenou Cemetery

When the water company failed to fill all of the tower’s offices, it ended up selling the building to the Andorran equity firm Emin Capital and American hotelier Westmont Hospitality Group for 150 million euros at the end of 2013. The group planned to convert the tower into a 400-room hotel but eventually had to abandon its plans in late 2016 following the Barcelona City Council’s rejection of its activity license application; it was quite the legal battle that proved futile. Once again, the fate of the tower was bathed in uncertainty.

It wasn’t until the next year, 2017, after three years of being completely vacant, that the building finally got its buyer: Merlin Properties. The company bought the tower for 142 million euros and abandoned the previous idea of turning it into a hotel, deciding to maintain it as an office building; the remodeling the hotel conversion would have required would have cost 80 million euros. The tower was given a new name, Torre Glòries, and Merlin reserved the building’s space for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) since Barcelona was one of the finalists to become the agency’s new headquarters; due to Brexit, EMA had to move its site to an EU-member country. In the end, however, Barcelona lost the bid — Amsterdam came out the winner — and the tower was without any clear tenants for the foreseeable future. Déjà vu all over again.

Tourist browsing Barcelona postcards and one of Torre Glòries is visible
Torre Agbar is the second-most photographed Barcelona building.

Over the next year, the company renovated the tower’s interior. It might have lost yet another year to vacancy, but that same year the Catalan political crisis hit with its attempt to declare independence, creating a lot of instability and uncertainty citywide. After things calmed down, Merlin began to refocus its efforts on getting the tower’s space rented out.

In June 2018, the first tenant arrived: the Competence Call Center, a Facebook subcontractor specialized in detecting “fake news.” It rented out eight floors. They had chosen Barcelona because, in order to monitor fake news around Europe, they had to hire experts fluent in all the European languages, which meant attracting talent from many countries. What better way to entice international talent than to offer the promise of a job in the Catalan capital, already a reference in the technology sector?

Torre Agbar overlooking Barcelona's 2014 La Diada demonstration
Torre Agbar overlooking 2014 La Diada demonstration

Things got easier from there. Since November 2019, the building has been completely rented out. All of the tenants are from the technology sector. In addition to the Facebook service provider, the American multinational computer technology corporation Oracle has also occupied spaces in the emblematic tower — three floors dedicated to developing a big data project called Netsuite — as well as the American software firm, Dynatrace.

View of Torre Glòries and Sagrada Família from Carretera de les Aigües
View of Torre Glòries, seen here with the Sagrada Família, from Carretera de les Aigües

In early 2019, Merlin Properties assured that Torre Glòries was not for sale amidst rumblings that Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet’s multinational conglomerate, and Proto Group were offering to buy the building for 150 million euros.

As of today, the current Torre Glòries owners have invested around 20 million euros in the tower. Of that amount,16 million have been allocated to the new interior and 4 million will go to converting the tower’s dome into a tourist viewpoint that will be accessed through an isolated section apart from the offices. Tourists will be able to visit a building that is the second most photographed in Barcelona, behind the Sagrada Família, some time in 2021.

TORRE GLÒRIES FUN FACTS

By EMILY BENSON

Photos by ISABEL TROYA

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Information gathered from:

El Confidencial

La Vanguardia

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