IMO. A benchmark for ocular microsurgery in Barcelona

by | Nov 29, 2013 | architecture


Josep Llinàs |

Barcelona, Spain [2002-2009] 

Some weeks ago Barcelona hosted the 48h Open House, an Architecture festival which takes place annually in some interesting cities such as London, Melbourne, Tel Aviv or New York, among others. For a whole weekend, it is possible to visit some of the most characteristic and interesting buildings in the city completely for free, some of which are inaccessible to the public on a regular basis. On the occasion of this event, I had the opportunity to visit a building which can only be seen as a patient. I am referring to the Ocular Microsurgery Institute IMO, inaugurated in 2009, which is located in the upper town Barcelona.


The Institute was founded in 1994 by a team of doctors, and it soon required new premises due to its great success. Therefore, the team decided to set up an international reference center dedicated to the treatment of ocular diseases as well as the protection and preservation of vision, and it was in September 2002 when Josep Llinàs won the competition of ideas to build the new headquarters.

The building is placed in the lower part of the Collserola mountains, in a privileged situation with reference to the city and enjoying the beautiful views of Barcelona and the sea.
Taking advantage of these conditions, the architect opens the building to the city by the south façade and buries the part of the program which doesn’t need natural light, so that it remains integrated with its surroundings.


In the first sketches, the project was orthogonal and static, but it progressed until it turned into an object which lands on the ground and tries to be unperceived, unlike the buildings in the surroundings.
Nevertheless, the heavy traffic of the Ronda de Dalt, which is just in front of IMO, causes a great impact from the acoustic and the visual point of view, thus conditioning its shape. The principal façade, in a spotless clinic white, shows the face of the building to the city.


This is a peculiar building, as the visit starts even before entering it. The access is placed in a lateral street, and it gives way to a promenade architecturale –architectural promenade- used in the past by Le Corbusier, which provides a beautiful experience to the user. This is a semi-covered hallway leading you to the main entrance, which allows  enjoying both the architecture of the building and the incredible views of Barcelona.



Once you are inside, the program is distributed in a functional way, for which the architect resorted to the opinions and suggestions of the medical staff. The areas where there is not supposed to be natural light, such as the surgery and consulting rooms, are situated in the low and intermediate levels, half-buried in the mountain. On the other hand, the areas which need natural light, such as the waiting rooms, the coffee shop and the offices, among others, are in the south façade of the building, where they can also enjoy the views of the city and the sea.



We could observe this in the large waiting room next to the reception, which is where we started our visit. There, thanks to an interesting roof and skylights, the light reaches in a very pleasant way. The roof shapes look for the highest visual comfort, which reminds us that this is a building dedicated to the eyesight. Actually, Josep Llinàs notes the relation between the building and the eye, and he compares the windows with a cornea and the roof and pergolas with eyelashes.



Another thing that should be pointed out is the interesting organization of the interior corridors, where the patients and the medical staff are always separated. This is achieved by distributing the corridors as if they were a comb, and repeating it in the reverse sense. In that way, each consulting room has two doors, one for the patient and the other one for the doctor, which makes the internal functioning of the institute easier.



We could visit not only those spaces which are more public, for the patient and his relatives, but also the areas for the medical staff. Apart from that, we could also see some of the rooms which are intended for teaching and investigating in IMO, such as the library. Besides we could enjoy some terraces which helped to understand the building in a better way and its integration with the surrounding.



And last but not least, I must recommend you to visit IMO whenever you can. I assure you that not only is it worth because of the design of the building, but also for the environment and the professionalism in it. To see architecture like this one with such an interesting purpose like ocular medicine, is a unique opportunity.





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Helena Ariza | Architect, passionate about photography and traveling. My purpose is to take you on a journey to the best architectural works.



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