Barcelona, the capital of the Spanish province of Catalonia, was an epicenter of 20th- century architectural vanguardism. The city’s geographic position on the northeast face of the Iberian Peninsula—ostensibly with its back to the Castilian capital of Madrid and its face toward the Mediterranean countries of Europe and North Africa—has sustained its cosmopolitan dimensions throughout its history. From the century’s onset and the separatist-regionalist concepts associated with Catalan modernis me, Barcelona’s architectural primacy has endured two dictatorships, the suppression of its people’s native language, and the dramatic social upheavals associated with industrial expansion and rapid population growth.
From the mid-19th century, Barcelona’s municipal authorities sought to cope with the newly industrialized city’s adolescence. The socialist Ildefonso Cerdà i Sunyer (1815–76) created a Haussmannian solution for unifying Barcelona’s Old City with the independent villages of the periphery (Cerdà plan, 1859). He focused on building a new connective corridor of regularized grids—the district known as the Eixample (“extension” or “new town”)—which he envisioned as the embodiment of the social panorama, where different classes could coexist harmoniously and nonhierarchically. By the early 20th century, the plan was deemed obsolete, and an international competition was announced to resolve the city’s increasingly problematic geographic and demographic expansion. French Beaux- Arts architect Léon Jaussely (1875–1932) won the competition and presented the city with a less radical attempt to address the city’s urbanization. This attempt was partially implemented in 1917. Barcelonese philosopher Eugeni d’Ors (1881–1954) directly observed the flowering of Catalonian culture during these years and proclaimed the new Zeitgeist “Noucentisme,” a rebirth of ancient Rome’s legacy in the region.
The dynamically autonomous spirit of Catalonian architecture proclaimed itself in a visual opponent of this heralded classicism: Barcelona’s version of Spanish modernisme. With pronounced Art Nouveau influences combined with regionalist flair in both materials and construction techniques , Catalan modernisme became the province’s most political aesthetic movement. Antoni y Cornet y Gaudí’s (1852–1926) highly charged, colorful, and poetic combination of osteomorphic, zoomorphic, and baroque forms challenged the traditional Herreran architecture that dominated the peninsula’s public commissions, thus asserting the distinctiveness of Catalonian culture as anti-Madrileño. Catalan modernisme’s heart was established along Barcelona’s wide Passeig de Gràcia, a major artery leading from the north corner of the city’s Plaça de Catalunya into, ironically enough, Cerdà’s Eixample district. Here, progressive middle-class patrons, following the lead of Gaudí’s Count Eusebio Güell (1847–1918), commissioned private homes from this new generation of urban architects. The personalized visions of Gaudí’s Casa Batllò (1907), Lluís Domenèch i Montaner’s Casa Lleó Morera (1906), and Josep Puig i Cadafalch’s Casa Amattler (1900) contributed expressiveness to an otherwise neoclassical urban sector, creating the district’s anticontextualist Manzana de la Discordia (Apple of Discord).
One finds among the modernisme architects a romantic engagement with medieval vernacular forms and local construction materials such as brick and ceramic tile, a rhetorical vocabulary associated with cultural tradition, local topography, climate, and vegetation. A distinctively Catalonian mode of vaulting was practiced by Gaudí, Domènech, and the younger Josep Ma Jujol i Gibert (1879–1949): an elasticine fireproof vault comprised of laminated layers of ceramic tiles bonded together with reinforced concrete that could be configured into a variety of geometric or biomorphic forms and that could span considerable widths without structural reinforcement. Jujol’s Church at Vistebella (1923) near Tarragona and Montserrat Sanctuary (1936) and close to Montferri, abandoned at the outbreak of Spanish civil war, employed Catalonian vaults in neo-Gothic formations, combining local brick and ceramics with iron and concrete to result in religious spaces imbued with poetic references to both God and nation.
Catalan modernisme’s effect on the city lessened in the 1920s, with the death of two of its major exponents: Gaudí and Domènech (d. 1923). By 1929 a new architectural language affected the city by virtue of the International Exhibition. This exhibition was dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera’s (1923–30) reconstitution of an Electrical Industries Exhibition that had been conceived nearly a decade earlier. Mies van der Rohe’s epoch-making German Pavilion (1929), built on the city’s acropolis Montjuïc, introduced the city to the Bauhaus idiom. Farther up the hill, Poble Espanyol (1928) presented the same exhibition audience with an “ideal Spanish village,” an amalgamation of the peninsula’s traditional architecture and the manifestation of the Viennese Camillo Sitte’s urban planning schemes. The coexistence of structural purity and folkloric vernacular would reverberate in Barcelona’s architecture for much of the century.
The 1930s saw the dissolution of Rivera’s dictatorship, the institution of a new state government (the Second Republic, 1931–39), and the reestablishment of a semiautonomous Catalonian government, the Generalitat (1932–39). The latter fostered an acceptance of Republican ideals and created a climate hospitable to Catalonian architects interested in using the state’s ideology as the basis for urban projects. Many of these young builders were part of the Grupo de Arquitectos y Técnicos Españoles para la Arquitectura Contemporánea (GATEPAC)—the Spanish wing of the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) and the Comité International pour la Réalisation des Problèmes d’Architecture Contemporaine (CIRPAC)—which emerged with four distinctive regional groups: East, North, West, and South. Grup d’Artistes i Tècnics Catalans pe Progrés de l’Arquitectra Contemporània (GATCPAC), the Barcelona-based East group, was arguably the most influential of them all, establishing direct and enduring connections with its European counterparts to the extent that Le Corbusier himself assisted in creating the Macià plan (1935), a massiveand radical project for reorganizing this working-class city into a communal utopia of high-density courtyard housing. GATCPAC’s seven-story Casa Bloc (1936, altered) allowed the young architects to construct the distinctive type of urban dwelling associated with the Maciá plan and Le Corbusier’s à redent housing.
Josep Lluís Sert (1902–83), later the dean of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, inaugurated GATCPAC’s rationalism both with his Muntaner Apartment Building (1931), a variation on the theme of balancing the private and the public, and most markedly with his Dispensario Central Antituberculoso (1938, by Sert, Joan Subirana, and Josep Torres i Clavé), a leading exemplar of hygienic modernism and architectural economy that made use of traditional Catalonian vaulting. Sert, who had been an assistant to Le Corbusier in Paris from 1929 to 1931, closely emulated the refined proportional relationships, sense of color, and texture that epitomized the Swiss architect’s works. Sert’s Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Artes et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris—which housed Picasso’s Guernica and populist imagery in photomontages and other visual media—introduced the international architectural community to the group’s dialectic and the Second Republic’s liberalist stance. Despite GATCPAC’s visionary aims of urbanistic reform and their ability to disseminate their ideals through the magazine A.C. (1931–37), resources were significantly limited during the period, and thus the promise of socially driven rationalism remained primarily a Utopian dream and not an actuality.
Spain’s civil war (1936–39) devastated the Iberian Peninsula and especially resulted in destruction in the nation’s eastern provinces; in Barcelona, churches were damaged or completely destroyed and building projects effectively halted. The victorious authoritarian New Régime of General Franco (1939–75) associated the country’s various avant-garde movements with left-wing political sensibilities, and subsequently, modernist movement architecture was actively discouraged. In the nation’s urban centers, the new official architecture prescribed to the legacy of grandiose neoclassical academicism; in rural Spain, post-civil war architecture hearkened back to a whimsical folk vernacular. Sert and other vanguard architects exiled themselves from their homeland; those who chose to stay either sustained themselves by constructing “patriotic” buildings that followed the state’s doctrines and guidelines, subsisted on the limited patronage of the private sector, or stopped building altogether.
The reclusive José Antonio Coderch y de Sentmenat (1913–84) found work designing Mediterranean villas of a regionalist and at times Expressionistic bent, such as his Ugalde House (1952; Caldetes, Barcelona), and also sought vernacular approaches to Barcelona’s explosive population growth in apartment buildings, such as the Pescadores Block (1954), constructed for retired seamen in Barceloneta, a working-class port area of the city. During the 1950s and 1960s, Coderch consistently developed an architectural idiom that at its best was a subtle response to modernist “white architecture” harmonized with local expression, climate, landscape, and culture.
Sert maintained contacts with architects and patrons in Spain, especially with those in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. His studio (1956) for the Surrealist painter Joan Miró, located on the Mediterranean island of Majorca outside Palma, united the region’s whitewashed rubble surfaces and sun-shielding perforated grilles with the formal vocabulary of Le Corbusier and the hieroglyphic shapes of Miró.
Spain’s isolationist tendencies dissipated during the 1950s, and interactions with democratic nations invigorated the nation’s economy. Barcelona’s Group R (1952–58) was founded in conjunction with the Colegio de Arquitectos de Cataluña y Baleares’s municipal competition to tackle the city’s constant housing problems. Josep Ma Sostres Malaquer (1915–84) was the theoretical leader of the group and an ardent admirer of Gaudí’s work. His own Casa Agustí (1955) in the nearby resort town of Sitges combined a regional sensitivity to its seaside context with an understated rationalism, resulting in a structure delicately imbricated with its nearby garden and protected by a double facade from the sun’s penetrating heat. Group R mem-bers Oriol Bohigas Guardiola (1939–) and Antonio Moragas Gallissà (1913–85) entered into an exchange regarding the future of Catalonian architecture and whether it should prescribe to the rationalist or neoclassical idiom. The group’s formal interchanges resulted in an outlook that called for Catalonian architects to reject neoclassicism because of its associations with Francoism and instead to promote a regionalist architecture emerging from modernism, a reinterpretation of craftsmanship and materials, of generic urban structures, and of avant-garde spatial configurations. Group R espoused the belief that architecture should have a social conscience to resolve sociological problems, and the group was particularly inclined toward the rationalist architecture of the exiled Sert, the vernacular approach of Coderch, and the neorealism of the Milanese. The group’s most noteworthy structure, Gustavo Gili Publishing House (1961), constructed in the interior of the Eixample for vanguard publisher Gustavo Gili by Bassó and Gili, made use of an unadorned permeable glass membrane wall raised on red pilotis and surmounted by a landscaped rooftop garden with pergolas.
By the late 1950s, Francoist Spain had entered a period of sizable economic expansion and unchecked urban development. Barcelona, Madrid, and Bilbao became the hubs of this growth, and their historic centers and peripheral suburbs faced the same architectural malaise that plagued many similar industrialized cities. Group R had grown significantly larger and eventually was reconstituted as the so-called Barcelona School, a less formal group of architects whose stylistic influences were markedly eclectic: modernisme, rationalism, Brutalism, neorealism, and Neo-Expressionism. Architects Bohigas, Josep Martorell Codina (1925–), and others came to reject modernism’s Utopian premises for a “poetic realist” regionalism—an architecture that emphasized traditional building practices and methods and a pragmatic knowledge of local history. The Barcelona School architects sought to redefine and reinvigorate the role of architecture in its new socioeconomic and technical context; the school thus became more politicized—more engaged with the Milanese theoretical position that architecture should be a catalyst for significant social change and that architectural practice should return to its traditional craft values. Bohigas promoted the group’s ideas in a number of written works, including his influential manifesto “Cap a una arquitectura realista” (1961; “Toward a Realist Architecture”). MBM, Bohigas’s partnership with Martorell and British expatriate David Mackay (1933– ), focused on urban housing projects in the 1960s; their Casa del Pati Housing Block (1964) and Avenida Meridiana Flats (1965) evidenced the prominent features that have come to define the Barcelona School: tectonicity, tactile sensitivity, the so-called deep plan, communal spaces, and sun-protective patios.
Coderch developed relationships with the international community of architects called Team X, which had emerged from CIAM in 1956. He sought new humanistic solutions tourban domestic configurations in the 1960s with such projects as his Casa Uriach (1962) and Casa Luque (1963), which introduced an especially marked sensitivity to the issue of the privacy in their jagged plans, vertical window recesses, and prominent use of Venetian blinds. His nonresidential Trade Office Building (1965) revealed his admiration for Mies van der Rohe’s glass skyscraper project of 1921. From his Girasol Building (1964) in Madrid and throughout the remainder of his life, Coderch also was engaged in rethinking modern urban apartment projects by creating humanistic variations on the theme, in which he sought a unified complex of distinctively autonomous apartments, a quasi-ruralization of urban life (e.g. Calle Raset, 1974; Paseo Manuel Girona, 1975).
Nearly half a century of authoritarian rule ended with General Franco’s death in 1975, and change became the nation’s credo. A new democratically elected government sought the partial restoration of Spain’s historical autonomies and the creation of new public authorities, including the Generalitat of Catalonia. Thus, the province’s distinctive culture was revitalized, its regional language was no longer outlawed, and new museums to its native sons were constructed. In 1976 Barcelona’s municipal officials created a new schema for the city’s rehabilitation, the General Metropolitan Plan, in 1974 the Barcelona School’s Arquitectura Bis published its first issue, and from 1976 until 1980 Bohigas was chairman of the local school of architects. MBM continued to address Barcelona’s social concerns in such projects as their more Brutalist-inspired Thau School (1975), a collaborative-based educational environment rooted in a more centralized and open plan of multiuse spaces. Ricardo Bofill’s (1939–) multidisciplinary studios, Taller de Arquitectura, founded in Barcelona in 1962 and Paris in 1971, addressed urban renewal problems with a more fervent ideological underpinning. The visual manifestation of their aims, Walden 7 (1975) in Sant Just Desvern, named after B.F.Skinner’s behavioralist utopia, consisted of 400 multileveled flats of various sizes in 12-story concrete towers prescribing to the Barcelona School’s deep plan and sheathed in the region’s terra-cotta tiles.
In 1981 the Generalitat named Bohigas the director of urbanism for the City of Barcelona and in so doing solidified the effect of the Barcelona School’s new typology for urban renewal. He used the 1976 master plan as the basis for creating regulated densities and for identifying the civic areas most in need of revitalization, although he questioned the earlier plan’s implementation and rejected its motorway designs. His new strategy included the establishment of a network of communal spaces—parks, plazas, and public facilities—threaded into the city’s densest neighborhoods, or barris. Most important, Bohigas advocated a pragmatic solution—a balance between modernity and historical memory—to Barcelona’s urban problems by stressing the importance of collaboration between civil servants and consultants, by selecting specific architects to resolve specific problems, and by emphasizing local design projects over total civic transformation. The first so-called plaza dura (“hard” square), Alberto Viaplana (1933–) and Helio Piñón’s (1942–) Plaza dels Països Catalans (or Plaza de la Estación de Sants, 1983), was constructed as a flat urban area with no protective boundaries and no contextualist references to the surrounding architecture; instead, the minimalist design acknowledged the site’s limitations and stark immediacy. Emblematically, Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion was painstakingly reconstructed on Montjuïc by Ignasi de Solà-Morales, Fernando Ramos, and Cristian Cirici.
Barcelona’s selection as host to the 1992 Olympic Games focused international attention on the city’s renovation projects, including Santiago Calatrava’s Bac de RodaBridge (1987), Esteban Bonell and Fracesc Rius’s Horta Cycle Track (1984), Araka Isozaki’s Sant Jordi Palace (1991), Norman Foster’s Coll serola Telecommunications Tower (1992), and Richard Meier’s Museum of Contemporary Art (1995). Much of the city’s water-front was rebuilt, Montjuïc Park was remodeled, and new roads were developed around the periphery. Municipal government supported these sizable projects, and a sense of optimism pervaded among many of the city’s architects, including MBM, who designed Novia Icària (Olympic Village, 1992), an attempt to reconcile the 1859 Cerdà plan with the renovation of the city’s formerly industrial coastal belt. Named after a 19th-century socialist group, Novia Icària became the culmination of Bohigas’s efforts to redefine the city by balancing tradition and modernity.
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