Barcelona does not comprise just one architecture nor is it just one city. Barcelona is a multitude of architectures and urban fabrics linked together, different cities: Barcelona is the sea, it is Catalan culture, it is movement, too. It has ever been thus.
Barcelona is a city that organised two international expositions in forty years from the end of the 19th to the early 20th centuries, leveraging this to transform its urban fabric and to make the city a more beautiful and enjoyable place to be. The first, held in 1888, saw the Parc de la Ciutadella remodelled and to bring the city in line with the time. A young architect destined to be an emblem of Catalan modernism would participate in the work for the Exposition: Antoni Gaudí. The Dante Alighieri of architecture would forever entwine his name with that of Barcelona, designing private houses, public parks and his beloved gift to Christianity, that of the Sagrada Familia, his dream from the very beginning. It remains incomplete even today, but it continues to evoke the eras in which cathedrals took centuries to be built, such as the Duomo in Milan or St Peter’s in Rome.
Forty years go by, Gaudí dies and Catalan modernism is replaced by ‘Noucentisme’. The city of Barcelona is getting richer and more mobile, so it is time to organise another Expo, this time in the Montjuic neighbourhood.
It is a fine occasion for Europe to show that it has left behind the horrors of the First World War and a chance for Barcelona to acquire buildings that will pass into history: the ‘Teatre Grec’, ‘Poble Espanyol’, the ‘Palau Nacional’ and the German ‘Pavilló’, designed by Mies van der Rohe – the heart and soul of rationalist architecture. The city rode through the Civil War and the Second World War all the way through to the end of the 20th century always in motion. The city grew, adding in new neighbourhoods occupying fallow land or absorbing adjacent villages or municipalities. At the start of the 70s, a thermoelectric power station was built on the coast in Badalona to sustain this growth. The name of the complex is derived from the shape of the three heat exchangers, with their characteristic tall chimneys: “Trés Xemeneies”, or three chimneys, which are visible from any beach around Barcelona and are now an iconic part of the city. Instead of being demolished when it closed down in 2011, the power station would be at the heart of the remodelling of the waterfront in the area. In true Barcelona fashion, everything that modernity offered to the city has been used to embellish it. The Trés Xemeneies is the pagan answer to the church dreamt of and designed by Gaudí, to the extent it is actually referred to as “the working class Sagrada Familia”, is the latest artistic acquisition for this incredibly avid city.
Photo Elisa Imperi (www.itm.srl)