Barcelona 2: Enric Miralles
On my second day in Barcelona I spoke with a local, female architect about the Catalonian capital and its architectural culture. As a result of the Spanish housing crisis she was out of a job. The city of Barcelona however is more alive than ever. Former industrial neighborhoods are improved by initiatives of local artists, the culture industry is thriving. For architects though the upcoming months, even years, don’t provide that many perspectives on work. A difficult situation.
Following her advice in the afternoon I visited a project by the Spanish architect Enric Miralles in the old city of Barcelona. The project is about the redevelopment of a market hall and several apartment buildings surrounding it. The new-old warehouse has been designed by Enric Miralles himself, for the new-old neighborhood he did the supervising.
Over the old market hall Enric Miralles has placed a waving roof. In the presentation of the design of Enric Miralles’ website this roof has a brightly colored cladding. Looking from the street, it is hard to tell whether or not that is actually the case. At the front of the building the roof reaches out into the street, supported by bundles of steel bars. Continuing the nineteenth century Eclectic architecture of the old market hall, the roof here subtly forms an – almost symmetrical - classical portico.
The actual ‘body’ of the market hall has been stripped and ‘reclothed’ by the architect. Except for the ornamental wall, everything about the market hall is new: the windows, the doors and the shops in the interior. At its back, the structure of the market hall has been cut to insert a block with apartments and to create a small plaza. Both the entrance to the apartments, as entrance to the service area of the shops are located at the plaza. At the back of the whole complex a horizontal sculpture of about thirty meters transforms a blind wall into a grand spectacle.
In the alley facing the sculpted wall the character of the neighborhood shows: big stacks of garbage, people hanging around their cars, agitated yelling of teen-age mothers… It seems like the renewing of the market hall is meant to elevate the entire neighborhood, much like the museum by Richard Meier in a neighborhood a little further was inserted there to put thoroughly set the art district on the map. Urban acupuncture.
At the residential blocks that were improved under the supervision of Enric Miralles a different strategy has been applied. The practice could be described as ‘creating wounds in order to heal them.’ I will explain that. To widen the street that starts just south of the market hall, a series of building blocks at both sides of this street have been simply ‘cut’. It has been a clean cut: the old perimeter walls still are still standing up, now suddenly ending at a new corner.
To heal the newly created ‘wounds’ the sides of the building blocks have been filled with new building mass. At the corners the tension between the new, modern, object-like architecture and the old, façade architecture culminates. Here, the old façade turns into a screen. At some corners the screen becomes transparent, exposing the balconies behind. Old and new literally overlap.
Looking back to the new-old market hall and the new-old housing from one of the dark, super narrow alley’s in the surrounding neighborhood, I realize that all this neighborhood needed was public space. And that is exactly what Enric Miralles has provided. Space that is brightened with air, light and color. Freedom.