When Madrid firm SUMA Arquitectura submitted its competition-winning proposal for a Barcelona library in 2015, the architects dubbed the project “The Enchanted Forest.” It was pure serendipity that the resulting building, which opened in May 2022, was later named after the founding father of magical realism, Gabriel García Márquez. Like the literary genre, the library’s design balances pragmatism and whimsy — making it a fitting tribute to the celebrated Colombian author, who spent seven years living in Barcelona after writing One Hundred Years of Solitude.
As a relatively young practice, SUMA was an unexpected choice for the landmark project (which is the firm’s first in Barcelona), but its striking proposal sparked the community’s imagination — and aligned with the government’s push for timber construction. SUMA had been toying with the playful concept for years: a library that resembles a pile of books stacked haphazardly to create a complex structure. Folded like an accordion, a facade of prefabricated fibreglass pieces evokes the books’ pages.
“The day the building opened, an older woman walked through the gates in awe and asked, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ ” says SUMA principal Guillermo Sevillano, who co-founded the firm with architect Elena Orte. “They’re not used to this kind of architecture in this neighbourhood.”
Indeed, while the library is bordered by several older civic buildings, its Sant Martí district had not seen significant public investment in a number of years. Many of the design’s key moves seek to make up for lost time. In keeping with local vernacular, a chamfered corner gives part of the site back to the city, the structure cantilevered above to create a portico that welcomes visitors inside. Carefully planned openings offer views into the warm wooden interior from the surrounding avenue, civic corridor and public square, while vertical louvres rotated 45 degrees mediate the relationship with the nearby police station.
Moving inside, a triangular atrium organizes key spaces around a central staircase while also acting as a solar chimney for natural ventilation — an especially effective tool in Barcelona’s hot, humid climate. From there, the building’s complex yet lightweight structure unfolds to create a series of sweeping study and reading rooms soaked in natural light. (More acoustically demanding activities are concentrated in enclosed areas like the basement or second-floor children’s space.)
By using a hybrid spatial truss system, the architects achieved impressive spans without vertical supports. While much of the CLT and glulam system was developed prior to construction — with a manufacturing model that produced numbered elements designed to be slotted together like a puzzle — the combination of timber and steel meant that some details had to be tested and refined on site. “It’s not like a concrete building, where everything will instantly behave,” says Sevillano. Still, the architects wanted the structure to look effortless — with connections and hardware cleverly hidden.
“For us, structure is not just a matter of solving the load requirements of the building with the minimum amount of matter. It creates connections and participates with the envelope and the furniture to create an atmosphere in which every space is different,” says Sevillano. “The whole thing works as a very complex ecosystem in which you cannot take out one part without altering the others.”
Much like the multi-generational story that drives One Hundred Years of Solitude, the finished building explores the power of cause and effect. Just as Márquez’s most famous work foregrounds the unbreakable bonds of family, his namesake building is all about community.
An inventive structure sets in motion a Barcelona library for the ages.