Can Architecture Affect Positive Social Change in Port Cities?The Barcelona Model: A Case Study of Applying Micro-scale Solutions to Waterfront Renewal Projects A research paper by: Daryl Kern Prepared for: Judith Bing, Dr. Mark Brack and John DeFazio ARCH 499: Barcelona Study Tour Abroad – Summer 2012 8th October, 2012
Kern 2 Many port cities across the world have major crime and blight issues,occurring due to vacancies from an industrial era where architecture, land useand re-use was not acknowledged as or considered important. Developers andlocal governments have only recently begun to realize that these fading portareas have enormous potential. They can become interesting communities ifwoven into the fabric of a city and, more importantly, executed properly. JosepAcebillo understood this when he wrote, “All developed cities suffer from widelysimilar environmental and socio-economic problems. The challenge lies incoming up with solutions that are tailored to each context rather than just trottingout generic solutions that tend to undermine each city’s potential and specialcharacter.”1 It is my theory that micro-scale architecture is critical in the properexecution of such redevelopments. It is only here, at the personal level, that wecan realize the intended use of the spaces we are attempting to create.Architecture at this personal level must be successful or the larger planning as awhole can be compromised. 2 In order to explain my theory, this paper willcompare two of Barcelona’s most recent exposition building projects, the 1992Olympics and the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures. Through research andobservation of these two projects, I have concluded that two things are equallynecessary in order to obtain a successful waterfront revival. Master planning thatintegrates existing and new adjacent communities well, and individual solutions1 Josep Acebillo, “Barcelona: Towards a new urban planning approach,” Spatium 2006: 572 For example, how successful would a sunken railway project be if there was nobody using the spaceabove? Some would argue that a large, unoccupied green space through a city could be a great benefit. Iwould argue not because most likely it would be taken over by criminal activity, but even so, it should bedesigned as such. It should be meant to be inhabited in a certain way, so it does not unnecessarily breakup the intricate fabric of the neighborhood, or city as a whole. Otherwise, why sink the railway at all?
Kern 3at the micro scale to help resolve this conflict. In order to study the planning and architecture of the aforementionedprojects, and to argue the success and failures of each, I must first look at thecontext in which they belong; that is the “Barcelona Model.” Beginning in the1980’s, Barcelona city planners have taken an active approach to newdevelopment and re-development. Oriol Bohigas, who was the city planner at thetime, wanted to promote a local identity for all of the neighborhoods in the city, orin his words to “sanitize the center and monumentalize the periphery.” 3 What hemeant, and what Barcelona moved toward, was selecting small sited individualpublic works projects in the historic city center (so as not to greatly disturb thefabric), while allowing larger but sustainable and lasting projects in the moreremote outlying areas of the city. They achieved this first by initiating the strictesthistorical building code and protections in Europe. This idea is still being carriedout, such as in the recent 22@ project where, as Ingersoll puts it, “much care hasbeen given… to proceed piece by piece and avoid insensitive demolitions,conserving the urban grain of the existing blocks, including the curious internaldivisions that sometimes followed the pre-Cerda drainage patterns.” 4 Catalans are extremely proud of their architecture and design culture as awhole, and that Gaudi, who was one of the greatest architects of all time,constructed all of his masterpieces in the area. This pride spurned a greatinterest in close government of Barcelona’s architecture and planning projects.City planners would begin to insist that individual solutions for the spot3 Richard Ingersoll, “The Social Integration of Art and Infrastructure in Barcelona,” Sprawltown: looking forthe city on its edges (New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006) 116-121.4 Richard Ingersoll, “The Barcelona Model,” Architecture Aug. 2004: 22.
Kern 4developments mentioned in the previous paragraph must be integrated wellwithin the urban fabric. A major contributor to the success of this integration isthe commitment to hold on to public space, as a way of tying the city together asa whole. Developers are often incentivized (whether through monetary gain orincreased occupancy) to donate part of their lots for public space, integratetechnical advancements and develop infrastructure, and provide housing. AsIngersoll wrote, “What makes the Barcelona Model different from mostpostindustrial urban renewals is the commitment to maintaining partial publicownership.” 5 Leading to and upon the death of Francisco Franco, Barcelonaexperienced renewed growth and a re-birth of Catalan cultural pride in all aspectsof society, especially the artistic. As Gastil observed, “With the political releasethat came with the fall of Francisco Franco in 1975, Barcelona slowlyreconnected to its history and legacy of design sophistication.”6 The 1992Olympics was an excellent opportunity to redevelop, generally, the city’sinfrastructure as a whole and, specifically, an Olympic Village and Olympic Portin Poblenou (Catalan for new village). Located in a dilapidated portion of theSant Marti District, this new village assisted with the larger planning agenda byopening the sea to Barcelona proper through Carrer de la Marina and otherextended roads. It also contributed to the main goal of connecting disparateoutlying areas of the city with the new ring roads that surround it, roads that had5 Ingersoll Architecture 22.6 Raymond Gastil, Barcelona: the Event and the Project (New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press,2002) 87.
Kern 5long been in dire need. The mostly linear area along the coast consisting oflargely abandoned industrial buildings was converted into a long greenbelt,allowing a separate district to be created, while still feeling very much part of thecity regardless of the ring road intrusion. Micro or local solutions solve the master planning agenda at the OlympicVillage and Port. For example, the ring road in this area is sunken below gradein order to maintain clear site lines to the Mediterranean from deeper within thecity. This is quite different from most waterfronts, which elevate roads in theseareas and allow access underneath. You can see clearly how successful this isat the ground plane and how well the multiple elevation scales work between thewaterfront area and the city. Some of the individual architectural solutions heremay appear suspect, or possibly designed in haste, as even critic JosephGiovanni wrote, “The underlying achievement of the Barcelona Olympics is thatBarcelona reclaimed their neglected city by impressive works for infrastructure,but the regret is that the architecture might have been allowed to make a moresignificant contribution.” 7 Still, these few fall short at best, and they are not out of 1. Raised promenade. Photo by author. 2. Promenade at La Barceloneta. Photo by author.7 Gastil 88.
Kern 6place or ill-conceived. On the contrary, much of the architecture at the Villageand Port is prolific, including one of the area’s iconic structures, the MarinaVillage shopping section with the unique and culturally fitting Ghery fish sculptureon top (image 1). It is architecture like this in the area that creates what Majooridentifies as local identity and strong historic and cultural connections, 8 all ofwhich were needed for this urban plan to be successful. Observations in person appear to reinforce this author’s original conclusions. Areas of La Barceloneta and the Olympic Village, specifically where the promenade is located, are well integrated into their surrounding communities and there is high use by the public. The sense of scale at both the micro and macro levels is well thought out. The promenade, as shown in image 1, is a small break at street level, and at the level of adjacent buildings. It drops off3. La Barceloneta street. Photo by author.8 Stan Majoor, “Framing Large-Scale Projects: Barcelona Forum and the Challenge of Balancing Local andGlobal Needs,” Journal of Planning Education and Research Feb. 2011: 144.
Kern 7approximately fifteen feet to allow interaction underneath (restaurants, changingrooms) and also to allow visibility of waterfront activity from further into the city.Many of the existing buildings and urban fabric of the adjacent La Barcelonetawere kept (image 3). The promenade lowers in this residential area (image 2) asthere is no parallel road to consider, and the diagonal blocks merge nicely withthe beachfront activity. This allows for a unique middle ground, with open aircafes and shops, between the residences and the beach. Catalans appeared to use the ‘92 Olympics as a catapult to start enticinginternational architects, who created unique design solutions like Ghery’s.Barcelona would continue this trend during future public projects. In 1996 mayorPasqual Maragall I Mira promised to secure another International Exposition, inorder to build on and expand the already growing tourism industry which hadstemmed from the ’92 Olympics. Barcelonas city council, the regionalgovernment, the Spanish National Government and UNESCO organized the2004 Universal Forum of Cultures (Fòrum Universal de les Cultures). The site forthis exposition was to the northeast of the Olympic Port, the last waterfront areain the line up the coast to remain almost completely untouched by the recentredevelopment. The urban planning design for the 2004 Forum was generally considered,although contensious, very good by most critics at the time. The Poble Nou, LaMina and La Catalana neighborhoods surrounding the area were all run downand would benefit from the development at the intersection of Avinguda Diagonaland the ring road. This was largely an industrial brownfield area that, as Majoor
Kern 8large power plant, sewage treatment plant, and incinerator. Although the project was well recieved at first, locals began to feel angstabout the individual projects being built. Fagerstrom wrote during construction in2003, “Barcelona continues its remarkably creative approach to architecture andplanning, but some recent developments are becoming socially contriversial.” 9Most of the controversy appears to have stemmed from individual buildings in thearea being given over to commercialization. The site, while quite run down andin need of revitalization, was already deeply integrated into the surroundingneighborhoods. This seems to clearly defy the Barcelona Model, as public spaceis held as precious in this theory. Still, the government was in serious debt fromthe ’94 Olympics and had to partner with private investors. Architect DavidMackay of the local practice Martorell Bohigas Mackay Arquitectes put it well at 4. The Forum Building. Sketch by author.9 Christina Fagerstrom, “View from Barcelona,” The Architectural Review June 2003: 34
Kern 9the time when he said, “The developing of the Forum area is correct and in linewith the city planning since the 1860s and the days of Ildefons Cerda who laidthe famous urban Barcelona-grid. ‘However, we do question thecommercialization of the public areas and the integration of the Forum area withthe surrounding living districts. Already the price setting at Diagonal Mar showsthe shops are not intending to stay longer than to get their investments back’.” 10 In order to understand how this commercialization of public space wasallowed to take place, we must look at where the plan broke away from theBarcelona Model. The major stakeholder of the 2004 master plan was a largetriangular building designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron called theForum Building. This was located on a triangular site created by extendingAvinguda Diagonal to the waterfront. It is striking at first appearance, with it’smidnight blue concrete clad skin that hovers above the ground plane. It has, infact, become an instantly recognizable icon of the city. It does not, however,appear to communicate very well with the surrounding environment. In welltaken photographs the building appears quite stunning and unique. In person,5. Forum Entrance. Photo by author. 6. Forum Building. Photo by author.10 Fagerstrom 35.
Kern 10however, it is a dark and heavy floating island, detached from all reality of urbanlife. It definitely sticks out like a sore thumb, and not necessarialy in goodfashion. I believe that at the micro level the Forum Building appears out of place fortwo reasons. First, the building is very closed off. There are public beaches justa few yards away, yet the Forum has turned it’s back to the street in all threedirections. The looming effect of the floors above do nothing to assuage it’suncomfortableness, and in fact contribute enormously to it’s heavy feeling. Thereare no shops, or interactive activities underneath or surrounding the building tobreathe life into the area, and allow for interaction underneath of the structure,which one assumes is the sole purpose of lifting the entire building. Second isthat the design appears conflicted. One of its largest features is the verticallyoriented polygonal glazing slicing through the rough concrete skin (image 6).This glazing reflects both the sky and sea, a naturalistic idea that contradictsharshly with the building’s clearly modern design. The reflective glass allows forno visibility of life inside, which adds to the appearance of isolation at street level.It was my sincerest hope that some conclusions drawn about the Forum building7. Forum Building. Photo by author. 8. Vacant - Forum Building. Photo by author.
Kern 11prior to visiting it might be proved wrong. Unfortunately, they were reinforced. It would appear that Herzog & de Meuron designed the Forum building foran area that was expected to facilitate high pedestrian traffic. This may explainsome reasoning for it’s structure, even if it does not it’s asthetics. There is somesaving grace for them in the theory that, should one have a place to go, crossingunderneath or around the Forum building would seem logical. Unfortunately,there is no place to go. David Mackay’s comments about public spaces beingforfitted and the surrounding neighborhoods not being integrated 11 appear quiteastute. The fact that his comments were made prior to the completion of the9. Forum esplanade. Photo by author. 10. Solar Array. Photo by author.11. Forum area. Photo by author. 12. Forum esplanade. Photo by author.11 Fagerstrom 35.
Kern 12project show excellent foresight on his part. Today, almost the entire site is bareand void of life. There are no shops. New midrise buildings border the site onit’s western edge, and form a wall on the opposite side of the ring road. Thesenew buildings completely cut off older surrounding neighborhoods. Massstretches of concrete between the Forum building and waterfront (the esplanade)now lay vacant. Europe’s largest urban solar array (image 10), with 10.500m2 ofsurface area, is a structural beauty. Unfortunately, it is only visible from the seaor air. It is, like most of the forum area, completely closed off from the city. Other urban areas of the site that conform more closely to the BarcelonaPlan appear to work quite well. The power plant, sewage treatment plant, and incenerator were all renovated and worked extremely well into the new CoastPark by Ábalos and Herreros. They are uniquely successful in creating the “observatory” intended by the architect, and integrating the new buildings including a recycling plant into the design. This architecture created, as Ábalos put it, “a collage that could allow the use of the beach, the salon, the mall as a public space13. Forum esplanade. Photo by author.
Kern 13and at the same time the perception of the place as a garden, a park.” 12 In observing these two waterfront projects, both through researching andby visiting in person, there are two main lesson that were learned. While theoverall urban planning of revitalized waterfront areas is important, it is howindividual projects are percieved at the personal scale that contribute the mosttoward the success or shortcoming of the master plan design. What Barcelonadid at the micro-scale for the Olympic Port, for example, may not work well atPhiladelphia’s waterfront. Ring roads (or highways) in Philadelphia were longago constructed and would be enormously costly to lower. Other factors, likehow carefully the interim spaces were considered and executed, and how areasfor activity were designed between the neighborhoods and waterfront, should belooked at more closely. We must take more significant consideration of theblock, the neighborhood, and observe how it is currently being used and will beinhabited in the future. We must not think strictly in overall broad terms aboutthese projects and realize that no matter how well conceptualized, poorlydesigned buildings and spaces will undermine good urban planning every time. 13In this way, good architecture can help resolve urban planning issues, especiallyat the waterfront, where adjacent social interaction is so vital to success.12 Xavier Costa, “Coast Park, Forum, Barcelona,” Housing and Space (Barcelona: fundació mies van derrohe, 2010) 46.13 DeFazio, John, “Fwd: Kern- Research Paper Proposal Barcelonas Waterfront Master Plan & ForumBuilding by Hertzog & de Meuron” E-mail to Daryl Kern, 25 July 2012.
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Kern 15Giovanni, Joseph. "Olympic Overhaul." Progressive Architecture June 1992: 62- 69. Print.Hoffman, Lily M., Susan M. Fainstein and Dennis R. Judd. "Barcelona: Governing Coalitions, Visitors, and the Changing City Center." Cities and visitors: regulating people, markets, and city space. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003. 6-8. Print.Ingersoll, Richard. "The Barcelona Model." Architecture August 2004: 21-22. Print.Ingersoll, Richard. "The Social Integration of Art and Infrastructure in Barcelona." Sprawltown: looking for the city on its edges. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006. 116-121. Print.Majoor, Stan. "Framing Large-Scale Projects: Barcelona Forum and the Challenge of Balancing Local and Global Needs." Journal of Planning Education and Research 31.2 (2011): 143-156. Print.Marshall, Tim. Transforming Barcelona: the renewal of a European metropolis. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.Riley, Terence. On-site: new architecture in Spain. New York, NY: Museum of Modern Art, 2005. Print.Shusta, Chris. "BARCELONA: NEW LIFE AT THE OLD PORT." 30 January 2011. Parks, Promenades & Planning. 2010 Rotch Traveling Scholarship.
Kern 16 7 July 2012. <http://urbanwaterfront.blogspot.com/2011/01/barcelona- new-life-at-old-port.html>.Universal Forum of Cultures. Forum Barcelona 2004, 2004. Print.