Here a few more photos from our Instagram feed. From top to bottom we have Fem Ferro building a long-lasting, fully recyclable cabinet for our terrace, Tudor figuring out how to install the w+w, Vitali the electrician, and Maño the carpenter.

I would like to share with you our reasoning behind choosing the sinks for our bathrooms at yök Casa + Cultura. The ninth point of our manifesto explains our criteria quite well:

9. Apply good design (useful, beautiful, fun, detailed, eco-friendly, functional, affordable, long-lasting, honest, local) to everything: interiors, business model, service, activities, and shop.

Good design is what we strive for and we are also on a limited budget. So what we thought was the most eco-friendly solution at first, was to go for as less material as possible. After all, the most eco-friendly material is the one we don’t use! For that reason, a few years ago when designing the R3project, I came across the Kalahari sink, designed by Ramon Benedito for Roca:

A sink made from one single piece of ceramic. The fact that it is a shelf and a sink in one piece minimises the material used drastically. Whether the aesthetic end of life is prolonged as well is arguable but it definitely creates less waste than a standard sink.

© Roca

Porcelain has the big advantage of being long-lasting, at least on a technical level. But how many sinks get thrown out due to an emotional reason; because it is out of fashion or we grow tired of it. To foresee the emotional longevity of things is often harder than making stuff last physically. Even though we found some nice locally-produced designs, the fact that porcelain is difficult to recycle (we would be talking about downcycling), kept us looking for other solutions.

When it comes to materials suitable for sinks, plastic is very funky and especially recyclable. We found the LTB sink by WET, made in Italy. These sinks have the advantages that they are very lightweight (2kg!) and made from 100% recyclable LDPE. They are easy to clean, child-friendly due to the round shapes and pretty much unbreakable. I am not so keen on the optional LED lighting but I don’t think it does any harm either.


Still, while discussing this with my colleague Jenna Watson, among other things, she reminded us that we should think about the entire life cycle of the sink, and consider its longevity. Does it make more sense to opt for porcelain ones that last more than a lifetime of the bathroom? Waving back and forth between whether to prioritise recyclability or durability, we thought we’d look into finding reused porcelain washbasins. And alas, at Otranto here in Barcelona, we found 5 beautiful sinks that were salvaged from an old B&B. Of course we were lucky to find enough reused sinks that fit in our spaces.

yök Casa + Cultura’s Instagram/via

Buying second hand can be exhausting but to me it is also fun. Once you find the object, you usually also have to invest some time to fix it up. In this case, we need to find fitting low-flow faucets, cover up the remaining holes (back in the days there were two taps, one for cold and one for hot water) and find a fitting drainage system. We believe that all of this is well worth it because we saved some unique sinks from the dump and prevented new resources from being used. Moreover, our washbasins tell a story, thank you for reading it!

After putting up low-VOC drywalls, we are on to the water installation for yök Casa + Cultura’s eco-renovation. One of our goals is to keep the apartments 100% PVC-free. We also aim to use materials in such a way that they can be recycled in the future. And we don’t believe that all plastics are bad. When it comes to the water pipes, we think that a non-toxic plastic plumbing system is the better solution to the traditional copper one.

© Petz Scholtus

For our pipes, we use PEX, or crosslinked polyethylene, by Uponor. The tubes are flexible, easy and quick to install, and long-lasting. Uponor explain on their blog that “the process by which copper is mined, refined, transformed into end products, and then used—such as pipe—is very energy intensive, using a great deal of non-renewable energy during its lifetime. In fact, if a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is undertaken for both PEX and copper, PEX fare much better. Simply put: during its lifetime, a PEX-based system has a lower overall energy content than a similar system made from copper.”

Copper is indeed more expensive, and even though it is also recyclable, requires a lot of energy to do so. Our workers say that installing PEX is much more comfortable than copper.

© Marcello Cannarsa

Benefits of Uponor PEX over Copper and CPVC according to Uponor:

- Flexible for fewer fittings, reduced leak-point liability
- Resists corrosion, pitting and scaling
- Retains more heat in hot-water lines
- Resists condensation on cold-water lines
- Expands up to 3X its diameter to help resist freeze damage
- Connections do not require the use of dangerous chemicals or solvents
- Offers a complete lead-free system from inlet to faucet
- NSF International certification for water purity
- Backed by a 25-year limited warranty on PEX tubing and ProPEX fittings

Last but not least, the PEX we buy in Spain is made in Spain, just like our drywalls.


Drywalls have in the past often been criticised for being “cheap”, nondurable or flimsy, and bad for your health. So we tried to find another solution to divide up the different apartments and rooms for yök Casa + Cultura. Most of the ideas we came up with however, were too experimental, meaning costing too much money or/and time. So we went back to studying drywalls available in Spain and found Knauf.

© Marcello Cannarsa

Knauf’s panels for room partitions and suspended ceilings have been rated A+ regarding VOC emissions in interior spaces. The panels are made of 100% recycled cardboard and natural plaster, of which a part comes from pre-consumer recycling.

© Petz Scholtus

Moreover, this technique allows us to put the new walls on top of the mosaic floor without damaging it. In the future, walls can simply be removed without damaging the original Catalan Modernisme features. No wet material like cement, sand or glue is needed. Another advantage for us is that the material is made in Spain, which reduces the transportation impact, and has obtained the UNE-EN ISO 14006 Eco-design certificate by Aenor.

yök Casa + Cultura’s Instagram/via

The panels are set up using standard metal guides that can easily be recycled in the future. The panels itself can also be fully recycled, separating the plaster from the cardboard. This however, is hardly being done in Spain at the moment because it is currently cheaper to dispose of the panels as landfill, than to bring them back to the factory. Let’s hope that by the time our walls need to be recycled, the company has a take-back program for its material in place!

© Marcello Cannarsa

Instead of mineral wool, we opted for natural sheep wool for insulation. In the end, using drywalls and sheep wool results in much less volume of material than most other materials, and hence in less transportation and packaging. The walls fit all our criteria regarding health (VOC-free), safety (fire-proof), environment (local production and non-toxic), comfort (sound-proof) and cost (easy installation).

At yök Casa + Cultura’s eco-renovationrecyclability is one of the key factors. Even though we didn’t want to throw anything away, some of the original partition walls had to go in order to fit the distribution to our current lives, creating smaller apartments with more privacy.

What is important to us it that in the future, maybe in another 100 years from now, people can go back to the original wall distribution. We are not touching any of the mosaic tiled floor or decorative ceilings. New walls are simply being put on top and below, so that they can be taken out and recycled in the future.

As for the rubble resulting from taking out some of the walls, we had an official company take it away for proper recycling, as required by the City Council. Regarding the current recycling system, this is probably a downcycling rather than upcycling, but at least it is not creating more landfill but serves as material for building works.

The Waste Agency within the Catalan Regional Government (Agència de Residus de Catalunya) explains:

A high volume of construction waste is generated in Catalonia. Due to its characteristics, much of this waste can be reused or recycled. Therefore, due to its importance, there is a specific management programme and management model for this waste. After a period of consolidation in which the aim is to attain the correct final management, the focus will be on prevention, recycling and the promotion of a market for recycled materials.

Everything else we hope to restore, both for environmental reasons (to reduce waste and save resources) as well as emotional ones (to preserve a piece of history and culture). We believe that even a piece of the old wallpaper from the 70s has to stay (image above). Our motto is: first, preserve everything we can, then recycle everything that has to go and lastly, make sure any new stuff is recyclable in the future. Reduce, reuse, recycle! And restore.

Here are some photos by Marcello of the current state of our eco-renovation!

Starting today, I have the pleasure to document our eco-renovation here on Treehugger. Our project is called yök Casa + Cultura, and is situated in the center of Barcelona, Spain. Casa stands for eco-friendly tourist accommodation and Cultura reflects the true local culture in Barcelona, not that of tourists. yök (from the Catalan word “lloc” meaning “place”) will be a social hub where visitors and locals come together to share good design and a sustainable lifestyle (read the yök Manifesto here).

What I will write about in the following weeks is the step-by-step transformation of an over 100-year-old space into three eco-friendly apartments and an office, while respecting all its original features. These include fabulous “Nolla” floors (colourful ceramic mosaic tiles), gorgeous woodwork and stunning high ceilings with decorative features, all in the style of Catalan Modernisme from around 1900.

Our renovations started in February 2014 and we hope to finish in June this same year. The aim is to use materials wisely, making sure they are recyclable and cradle to cradle where possible. A special effort is being made to reduce the water and energy consumption in the apartments. Moreover, we give priority to locally designed and produced materials, products and furniture to reduce transportation, support the local economy and promote the regional culture. The trick is to create apartments in which responsible living is possible without sacrificing the experience.

We are delighted (pun intended) to be working with Jordi Ballesta and his team at Anoche, to make yök a well-illuminated and at the same time energy-efficient place. 

With the help of Xavier Mor from Renòwatt energy solutions, we were able to decide on the best systems for heating water and heating and cooling the space, while maintaing a small CO2 footprint. More information soon!

Our eco-renovation is in full swing, thanks to CTTEAM and Postbook

We would like to introduce you to our construction team! Armando’s company CTTEAM and Cova, together with architect Albert from Postbook, will be executing the eco-renovation in the next few months.

This is our plan! 3 spacious apartments with "modernismo" floors and ceilings, typical “Eixample” balconies, and locally made furniture. Follow the #ecorenovation online and come and stay with us this summer!

And so it begins, very carefully!

And here is Part 2 of Benjamin Julve's photos of our spaces before the eco-renovation! Click here for Part 1)

Here is the first part of Benjamin Julve's photo series of the yök spaces! (Click here for Part 2)