Architects view things differently. As the creators of all things vertical (!), they imagine and define our landscapes, our spaces and our places. That contribution is priceless. Architecture, as shown in a paper by Chapdelaine (2009), significantly influences our ability to create. Hence, architects bear the responsibility of creating contexts of creation. As always, with this great power comes great responsibilities.
Barcelona is a great city for architects. Those encountered there over the past week have not failed to mention that the density of such urban dreamers is higher than it should be, which leads to some obvious problems : competition is cutthroat, salaries are low and many highly-qualified architects end up working in bistros and cafés for lack of alternatives.
On the other hand, this density provides city planners, urbanists and citizens with a certain ether of ideas out of which to drive the city's constant renewal. From the endless efforts to complete the 18 spires of la Sagrada Familia to the recent Universal Forum of Cultures that lead to the development of the area surrounding Diagonal Zero and the Parc del Forum area, back to the significant improvements of the South-eastern zone surrounding the port (with the W hotel's odd yet highly strategic positioning at the southernmost tip of the Barceloneta) preceding the 1992 Olympics, architects have found an ideal playground on which to concretize their inspirations.
The spaces of Barcelona Activa, the city's highly successful incubator
That is not to say that Barcelona's architectural heritage, or its numerous projects looking forward, are without contradictions or challenges. For example, some of the most recent construction projects (the Parc del Forum complex was finished in 2003-2004) have failed to integrate the new imperatives of modern architecture : accessibility, energy efficiency and mobility, notably. In doing so, such projects leave Barcelonians with structures that will prove unsatisfactory for a period of time, and make harder the resolution of contemporary problems such as social dissonance, global warming and economic inequalities. The difficulty with the conceptual architecture of recent times in Barcelona is that it can only be retrofitted at great cost, and hence does not allow the structures to be modified according to the various social uses we may require of them. They are, as architect Dan S. Hanganu of Hanganu Architects put it in a recent interview, fireworks - spectacular gestures where the search for aesthetics prevails over function and adaptability.
The Aguas de Barcelona Tower, or Agbar Tower, sits at the entrance of the 22@ district
This struggle to find a balance between the deep-rooted significance of works like la Sagrada Familia, and the short-lived creative fireworks that allow architects to develop new ideas and new concepts (some of which will fail) is something urban planners have to weigh carefully. Although mistakes are, as always, essential to maintaining a strong and forward-looking creative class in any given field, the long-lived consequences of architectural works deserve to be examined carefully, in Barcelona, and elsewhere.
(Photos : Francis Gosselin)