Photo by Lorenzo Vecchia
The city to come
The car park for the Las Arenas complex
If the city council’s plans go ahead, looking out over Barcelona from Gaudí’s Parc Güell in three years’ time we shall take in a panorama of soaring signature buildings designed by fashionable international architects, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hada, Toyo Ito and Richard Rogers. Barcelona will be an efficient, multi-tasking metropolis: culture packaged with commerce in a former-bullring-turned-leisure centre at Las Arenas; businesses and homes in the seaside district of Diagonal Mar; sport with design, in Norman Foster’s redesigned Camp Nou and transport serving the environment with the mother of all metro lines, the L9.
A dearth of office space in the city centre has pushed prices as high as €27 per square metre in central zones, and spurred a frenzy of building in recent years. This means that by the end of this year, another 299,000 square metres of office space will be created, according to Ajuntament estimates, with another 373,000 square metres added in 2010. Much of it can be found in District 22@, where three million square metres of land in the Diagonal Mar area is being transformed into a hi-tech business zone, with 50 towers destined for the area within the next 15 years.
By the end of 2009, we will be able to enjoy Catalan architect Enric Massip’s Diagonal 00, a 110-metre tower of white steel and glass, which is to be the headquarters of Spanish telecommunications giant Telefónica. By the end of 2010, a 23,000-square-metre block called MediaTIC, the brainchild of architect Enric Ruíz Geli, will be finished. The giant fluorescent cube will have an innovative ‘cushioned’ outer skin, which will absorb the sun’s rays during the day, enabling it to self-illuminate at night. It also boasts ‘smart windows’, which dilate and contract, regulating the temperature of the building. This will make the building 20 to 40 percent more energy efficient.
Within the next couple of years, we can also look forward to the extraordinary Spiralling Tower, British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid’s layered 11-storey building, of some 27,000 square metres, which resembles an enormous liquorice twist. Work on it will not begin until 2010, however.
At the other end of town, towards l’Hospitalet, we can already admire British architect David Chipperfield’s Ciutat de la Justicia (City of Justice), an imposing six blocks that centralise Barcelona’s law institutions. They will open for business later in the year. Nearby, Barcelona’s recently enlarged trade fair on Gran Via will come under the guiding hand of Korean architect Toyo Ito, who will assist in the further expansion of the area to encompass 240,000 square metres by 2011, including six Gaudí-inspired pavilions, when the city will boast the largest trade fair facilities in Europe.
The lack of affordable housing has led to community-level projects that renovate rather than rebuild. Some €16 million has been allotted for beachside Barceloneta’s Pla d’Ascensors, which now envisions more than lift installations, and includes public amenities, façades and what the council calls ‘public meeting places,’ that is, sprucing up squares.
Ideally, a plaça creates a sense of community, as a place where neighbours gather to gossip. Yet, it could equally be something that simply fills a gap between buildings. The new Plaça Europa, in l’Hospitalet, is a good example of this. The square, with a budget of €68 million, is in the process of being surrounded by 28 soaring edifices, a mix of office blocks and homes. Two personable burgundy towers by Toyo Ito are already visible.
Elsewhere, the council has made an effort to radically improve squares, confronting the difficult task of creating space and greenery in a city that doesn’t have much of either. Plaça Glòries, originally designed by Ildefons Cerdà to serve as the city centre in the new urban plan, has been pushed to the back of the agenda of late and is still a busy roundabout, over which Jean Nouvel’s Agbar Tower looms.
Things are finally set to change, however, and by 2011 the traffic will be buried under an immense green zone of 105,000 square metres, around which a public library, a sports centre and a cinema complex, designed by Zaha Hadid, will be built. Glòries will also be the location for the Centre de Disseny, a design museum that resembles a giant stapler, and the sleek gently undulating surface of Edifici Ona, designed by Federico Soriano. The open-air flea market, Els Encants Vells, will be stowed in a building.
Plaça Espanya, meanwhile, is the focus for an ambitious project by British architect Richard Rogers, the man behind London’s Millennium Dome. The former bullring Las Arenas has already been hoisted up, and this year will be capped, with a shopping and leisure centre inside.
Before the financial crisis blew them off the front page, environmental issues cropped up everywhere on the government agenda. One response was mammoth investment in public transport. The plan to link the tram service on Diagonal to take in the Glòries and Francesc Macià squares was approved in 2008, although no date has been set for its completion. The biggest investment comes in the form of new metro line L9: stretching between Badalona and the airport, the line will travel 43 kilometres, taking in Guinardó, Lesseps and Zona Franca on route.
What is to be the longest metro line in Europe is also proving one of the most expensive, however. Beset by delays, the budget has tripled from the originally estimated €2.5 billion, rubber-stamped in 2001, to over €6 billion, as stations are dug ever deeper to avoid a repeat of the collapse of a tunnel that was being excavated to extend the L5 line in 2005. The whole L9 line will not be running until 2012. A more imminent inauguration is the new airport terminal. The T-Sur, designed by Ricard Bofill, is the size of 52 football pitches and should be in service by this summer.
Slower progress is being made on the high-speed AVE, although construction work is proceeding on the connection between Barcelona and Girona and, eventually, France. The line will lay claim to its own spectacular building, that of Frank Gehry’s Núvia (The Bride) at the Sagrera end of the line: five twisted towers of glittering glass and solar panels reaching up 35 floors to 145 metres. Work has not yet started.
Turning former factory space into something productive again saw Sant Andreu’s Fabra i Coats textile factory reborn as a space for music and the performing arts in 2008. The same is to happen for Zona Franca-based l’Illa Philips, on which work is set to begin this year. The 600-square-metre space will be transformed into the Centre de Creació de la Dansa. Meanwhile, downtown, the new Filmoteca makes slow progress in its future Raval home in the Plaça Salvador Seguí. We will also have to wait until 2010 to visit the new marine zoo, which will stretch along the coastline and out to sea, covering some 50,000 square metres from Barceloneta towards the Fòrum.
Whether all these plans will come to fruition in the current economic climate is not clear. What is clear, however, is that Barcelona’s decision-makers are all for continuing the city’s traditional image of remaking itself in a constant process of transformation, and they are ready to pay for it if the money is available.