Thursday, January 15, 2004

The Barcelona Gherkin

Barcelona is a remarkable city. Like many European cities, it has an old gothic centre, and this is quite nice. However, unlike most European cities, the gothic centre of Barcelona is not the architectural highlight of the city. This is because around a century ago the great architect Antonio Gaudi designed some of the most extraordinay buildings you will see anywhere. His buildings look like they are grown rather than built, and they give the city extraordinary character.

The most extraordinary Gaudi building though is the church of the Sagria Familia, which is still incomplete today, although construction continues. (Some people believe that it should have been left incomplete rather than have lesser architects finish Gaudi's work. I disagree with this. I think that most of the great churches and cathedrals of the world were built over prolongued periods of time and using multiple architects, and regardless of the greatness of the person who initially designed this one, there is no reason why it should be different. In any event, the building is like no other church that has ever been built anywhere.

Hmm. I am not sure that my attempt to juxtapose the Sagria Familia and the Finding Nemo poster was entirely successful, but you get the point.

On the other hand, this photo I am proud of, but it is perhaps less good at simply showing the building.

In any event, Barcelona has until recently had major highrise other than the Sagria Familia, which has dominated the skyline. Barcelona is on a coastal plain, and behind and around the plain is a range of what you would either descibe as large hills or small mountains. Gaudi's famous Parc Guell (which I will discuss in another post) is on the side of one of these mountains, and the view of the city from the highest point of Parc Guell is quite spectacular. Of course, it has traditionally included a great view of the Sagria Familiar. Look at it now, though, and you see something else. That's right. It's a gherkin.

This is worth investigating. I want to see it from close up. It is not actually in the centre of town, but in a place called approximately "Place of the Glories of the Catalans", which is a real dump but is at least having some regeneration. (There is a new shopping mall next door). I walk in the approximate direction. There it is

It's an under construction gherkin, with just the frame of the top section, and a strange mottled look lower down. Let's get closer.

Why the mottled look? The dark bits will presumably be windows, but why the odd L like shapes. It almost looks like somebody has been playing Tetris on the side of the building.

Quite an interesting building. Of course, the trouble is that we do not know what the building will actually look like when complete. I suspect a layer of glass will cover the whole thing, and the mottled Tetris look will go away. The building isn't quite as curvy as the London gherkin, which is I think a better building. And this is Barcelona, city of great architectural treasures. I think putting something else to accompany Gaudi in the skyline is good, but I don't think this is quite comparable in terms of overall quality. The Sagria Familia is a work of genius. This isn't. But I still rather like it.

Of course, we live in an age where it would be possible to cover the side of the building with LEDs, get somebody to set up a PC to control them, and we would essentially have a giant screen covering the side of the gherkin. Then in an ideal world we could perhaps patch this into a wireless network, so that passing geeks could genuinely play Tetris on the side of the building from their laptops. That would be really cool, and we live in an age when it wouldn't be technically very hard to implement. I am not expecting to see it happen though. At least not in Barcelona. Although somebody will no doubt try it in Japan some time soon. Or Moscow would be even better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. I have been to Barcelona just one week ago. Finding a nice centrally located accommodation in hotels in Barcelona is no easier than any other great city, and so I am very fortunate that my wife's cousin Maria has one with a view across to Sagrada Familia by way of her laundry porch. She is very old now, and we haven't visited her since 2001, so I keep telling my wife, it's time to return to Barcelona. This is one of my favorite cities to just wander around. It's generally very safe and clean, and the architecture of Gaudi among many other great Catalan architects, is wonderful to look at. I really enjoyed my trip to Spain.

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