For the Renaissance Barcelona Fira Hotel, sited near a convention center on the highway to the city's airport, Jean Nouvel took on the challenge of making meaningful architecture out of what Rem Koolhaas famously defined as “junkspace“—the anonymous, generic sprawl that rings cities everywhere. Nouvel's response was to use the concept of an oasis or refuge from the uninspiring surroundings as a design theme in both literal and figurative terms.
The literal oasis is a central open-air garden that runs vertically through the hotel's 26 floors, filling every level with palm trees and other vegetation. This vertiginous, north-facing void, animated by zigzagging fire stairs, rises between two solid volumes containing guest rooms. These are accessed from single-loaded open galleries that overlook the garden and its spectacular views to the city. As project leader Damien Renchon points out, “It's really a vertical motel.” The central void is interrupted by a restaurant on the 14th floor, as well as penthouse suites and a rooftop bar and swimming pool, which are all surrounded by glass-enclosed terraces housing more greenery.