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Photo by Kirsty Moore
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Photo courtesy of Caixa Forum
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Photo © Ajuntament de Barcelona
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Photo by Kirsty Moore
Number 24, Joaquin Costa, is heralded by a nondescript plate glass door and a set of standard door buzzers. It looks a lot like the other doors that line the narrow Raval street, famous for its strip of popular neighbourhood bars. Yet, hidden behind the building’s plain facade is a network of loft spaces home to a small group of artists and other creatives that both live and work there. For decades, this space has served resident artists, drawn in by the affordable rent and ample space, but like many other buildings in the neighbourhood, this one has an interesting history.
Nicolas Baud and his partner Javier Morón Uceda run their business, Hidden Factory, out of one of the spaces at Joaquin Costa 24. Hidden Factory is a gastronomic project—something between a clandestine restaurant and a supper club, which melds theatre, food, music and history. The name of their business hints at both the clandestine nature of their events, but also at the secret heart of the space in which they work. “The building used to be a copper factory back in the 19th century,” Nicolas explained as he points out some of the building features that he believes belonged to its former incarnation.
Their building is not unique to the neighbourhood, however. The Raval has a long history as a textile centre in Barcelona which goes back to the 1700s when Josep Canaleta, a local manufacturer, introduced the cotton spinning machine to Spain. Not long after, a crisis in the agricultural sector drove many of the farmers indoors, just one in a collusion of factors which helped to boost the textile industry to prominence here as the Industrial Revolution spread throughout Europe. Cotton-printed calicos, a fabric popular in Paris at the time, became the leading product of the industry, and by 1780 there were at least 150 factories throughout Raval, Sant Pere and Poblenou formed to meet the demand, with many other industries following suit in the 19th century. The textile industry later made its way out of the city centre and brought prosperity to towns like Vic, Sabadell, Manresa and Igualada.
In the latter half of the 20th century, as industry fell into decline globally, many of the factories fell into disuse and lay abandoned for decades. Over time, the city began to work to find a way to maintain the architectural facade of the spaces while re-appropriating them for new use. Some have been turned into private spaces, like a former cement factory converted by famous local architect, Ricardo Bofill, in 1975 into his personal home and office, while many others have been acquired by the government for cultural purposes.
Caixa Forum, the contemporary cultural space at the foot of Montjuïc near Plaça Espanya, is one of the earliest examples of this type of renovation. Once a textile factory called Casaramona, the building stands as one of the signature pieces of industrial Modernist architecture in the city. Designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, a contemporary of Antoni Gaudí and Lluis Domenech i Montaner, it won a prize for best industrial building in 1911. After the factory closed, the space sat unused until La Caixa acquired it in 1963. It was not until 1992, however, that the decision was made to redesign and repurpose the space. It finally opened to the public in 2002, its original facade a reminder of the city’s industrial past.
See the beautiful exterior of the original Fabrica Casaramona and appreciate the excellent temporary exhibitions at this contemporary art centre.
Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia 6-8.
Museu Can Framis
After admiring the museum’s contemporary new face, spend time inside getting to know some of the 300 Catalan works from the 1960s onwards that make up the permanent collection of Antoni Vila Casas.
Roc Boronat 116.
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Even if you’re not a student, you can still head over to view the impressive Ca l’Aranyó, the old textile factory that is the hub of at the university’s Poblenou campus and part of the 22@ initiative.
Roc Boronat 138.
Fundació Palo Alto
Admire the outside of this building as well as the carefully landscaped exterior spaces complete with its own organic garden.
Slowly but surely, these newly converted spaces are transforming the face of the city. The trendy El Nacional restaurant located off Passeig de Gràcia, built in 1889, is a good example of the graceful rehabilitation that many of these factories have undergone. Its former incarnations as a café-theatre, a fabric dye factory and a car dealership are hardly recognisable in the stunning new space.
In Poblenou, Paula Loew, co-founder and manager at ElTornBarcelona, has run her ceramics studio out of an old factory since 2010. Although she isn’t certain of the building’s past life, she loves the light and high ceilings. “It offers a great atmosphere not easily found in commercial spaces. It gives us the feeling of having enough space to let our creativity flow.” In addition, she loves being in Poblenou with its international feel surrounded by other art and design studios and co-working offices. “It feels like creativity is all around us,” she says.
Fundació Palo Alto has regenerated a former manufacturing complex in the centre of Poblenou as a place for the promotion and management of cultural and artistic activities. Once part of the textile industry as early as 1875, this complex of buildings was threatened by demolition several times, and was eventually preserved by a group of artists and professionals. The private foundation of Palo Alto was born in 1997 and has worked hard to bring new life into the building through renovation, guided tours, exhibition spaces and a cultural fund. The complex now houses 19 diverse businesses, including photographers, painters, interior designers, architects, clothing designers and famous Spanish artist, Javier Mariscal. In December 2014, the monthly Palo Alto market was launched, bringing local designers and entrepreneurs together in a street market atmosphere, and has been a huge success.
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Photos courtesy of Palo Alto Market.
Palo Alto before.
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Palo Alto: after.
Also in Poblenou, the Can Framis factory complex was converted in 2009 by BAAS Arquitectura from a former textile factory into a sleek, modern building which houses a museum of contemporary art. Like many former factories in this area of the city, it is supported by 22@, a governmental urban planning initiative that has transformed large swaths of industrial land in Poblenou into innovative new spaces.
The 22@ project began in 1999 and is now one of the most notable for its forward-thinking and fast-growth approach to the urban transformation of the city. 22@ grew out of 22A, the urban planning code for industrial land in Barcelona, and the project’s name has come to represent its vision for both a physical and conceptual transformation of the Poblenou cityscape. The project covers more than 200 hectares that includes living and work space for 90,000 people and more than 7,500 companies, bringing together artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and creatives into a single harmonious community.
Oriol Molas, Professor of Economics at the Universitat de Barcelona, and Martí Parellada, Co-Founder of Gaps, write about the benefits of the 22@ project in the Revista Economica de Barcelona, crediting 22@ with creating a “sustainable plan to make the city more balanced, more hybrid, and more ecologically efficient, with a stronger economy and greater cohesion”. It’s an ambitious plan, but one that its founders believe will transform Barcelona into a competitive participant in today’s knowledge-based economy.
Andrés Manso, founding partner of startup incubator Incubio believes that these spaces are an important way to grow businesses in the city, providing an environment where different creatives can meet and interact, allowing for vital collaboration. “Without the synergy that these spaces provide, it’s impossible to survive,” he said. In addition, he sees these types of initiatives as fundamental to growth on an international level, in order to compete with cities like Berlin.
In addition to the Poblenou regeneration project, there are several other initiatives in Barcelona and beyond which are turning former factories into viable new spaces. Fabriques de Creació de Barcelona, known in English as Barcelona Art Factories, was started by the Barcelona City Council’s Cultural Institute as a way to bring together innovation and production through renovating landmark buildings and leasing them to local associations which run cultural programmes. There are a total of ten spaces supported by the Art Factories initiative, located throughout the city’s districts, with Fabra i Coats, the 100 percent municipally-run space in Sant Andreu, standing as its centrepiece. Beyond Barcelona, the town of Granollers has Roca Umbert Fàbrica de les Arts, a multidisciplinary cultural space and Sabadell has L’Estruch which it calls a ‘living art creation centre’ with music and dance performances, workshops and artist residencies.
While the work of 22@ and others may be improving the city’s spaces both physically and culturally, the project still has its detractors. Isabelle Anguelovski, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Environmental Sciences and Technology at the UAB, studies equity in urban regeneration from a comparative perspective. She acknowledges that there are both benefits and drawbacks to any such project.
“Barcelona is very good at showcasing big projects and using big-name architects for building aesthetically intriguing buildings, but the mid-term contribution of these changes to the social and economic fabric of the neighbourhood is questionable,” she says. Along with any regeneration project comes the possibility of gentrification, a change which can have a huge impact on the social and cultural fabric of a community. She cites the Born as an example of one neighbourhood which has seen large-scale changes which have not necessarily been beneficial for its residents.
Anguelovski acknowledges Can Batlló, the former textile mill-turned-social centre located in Sants, as an example of a socially responsible model. “I think the Can Batlló model is very powerful because it is based on residents coming together with a group of progressive architects and carefully planning the reuse of the place with and for the people,” she explains. “This approach takes into consideration the memory and traces of the past and how to make best use of industrial buildings in ways that residents can benefit from them.”
The sense of community born out of these transformations is perhaps what is truly at the heart of Barcelona’s urban renewal. Not only are organisations pulling together across the city, but also the people within them, and that can be a powerful thing.
The proprietors of Hidden Factory feel it too. “It’s an industrial building, but each space within is unique. It’s a community, and everyone supports each other,” explains Baud. We are standing in the studio of Gustavo Adolfo Tarí, a costume designer whose work can be seen in productions at the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Light from the interior patio fills the space, emphasising the lofty ceilings. Threads of an opera I don’t recognise float towards us from the back corner of the room. We admire the elaborate costumes that hang on racks suspended from the ceiling while the trio catch up about their latest projects. The following evening, Javier and Nicolas are hosting an event at their place called Pulpo Fiction, an octopus-themed party complete with poetry and music. They invite Gustavo to join them, and then we head out to meet the artist living in the studio downstairs, the former workshop of famed Catalan artist, Jaume Plensa. They don’t run into him very often, Nicolas tells me, but they would love to host him at a dinner one day. “We like to get everyone together as often as we can.”
SPACES SUPPORTED BY BARCELONA ART FACTORIES
Fabra i Coats (Sant Andreu)
A multidisciplinary workspace for the performing arts, music, plastic and visual arts, multimedia creation and projects relating to information and communication technology (ICT). www.fabraicoats.bcn.cat
Ateneu Popular 9 Barris (Nou Barris)
Centre for performing arts, circus, vertical dances and music with cultural programming as well as support for creation, production and training. www.ateneu9b.net
Supports research, training, creation and production in the fields of plastic arts, visual arts, and multimedia. www.hangar.org
La Central del Circ (Sant Adrià de Besós)
Centre dedicated to training, practice and continued education for circus professionals. They offer open days throughout the year to the public for short shows and dress rehearsals. www.lacentraldelcirc.cat
La Escocesa (Sant Martí)
Centre for creators of visual and plastic arts, with studio spaces, training, professional development and support, and exchange programmes at affordable prices. www.laescocesa.org
Centre for creation and study of the body and movement language, which offers artist residencies as well as activities and workshops for families. www.granerbcn.cat
La Seca (Ciutat Vella)
Centre for performing arts that offers workshops, seminars, and educational activities, along with regular programming for the public with a focus on magic, circus and dance. www.laseca.cat
Nau Ivanow (Sant Andreu)
A performing arts centre which supports the development of artistic projects, especially by young creators. www.nauivanow.com
Sala Beckett/Obrador (Sant Martí)
Dramaturgical centre for playwriting and performance arts offering courses, workshops, creative laboratories and personal tutorials as well as teaching activities and training for the public. www.salabeckett.cat