Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Barcelona - first impressions

On Friday afternoon the trip form Barcelona Airport to the Ibis hotel takes 1,5 hours by bus, metro and foot. The tourist spends a lot of time orienting himself and figuring out the directions. But it is an interesting self-experiment in (psycho-) geography and topography.
One of the abilities a psychogeographer needs is reading the city. And driving from the airport to the hotel is a good exercise in studying the growth rings of the city. Below I record my first impressions and rough conclusions. Then I try to verify them using Wikipedia and the guidebook.
Emptiness next to the airport. The airport was built far away from the city and a highway was constructed. Now the highway and cheap land are attracting investors.
An area in stasis, waiting for future development. Nothing happens here because the paper plans have to be finished first. And the crisis has struck and all planning has stopped. This area will stay semi-wild for a long time to come.
Surprising how the airport areas all look the same. The country around Prague airport looks almost the same!
I was not totally right: The airport is surrounded by nature reserves!
Somewhat closer to the city big supermarkets combine with small industry and road infrastructure. This area cannot be used for anything else, like housing or office space. The small industry was here first but now it is being pushed out except in these useless enclaves.
Surprising how these areas all look the same. This could be Northern Italy as well! The country around Milano looks exactly the same.

Metro lines are stretching their tentacles towards the airport. Housing and offices follows in their tracks.
Before the metro arrived cheap mass housing was built here in the 1970's. There were no shops and only bus connections. But people came anyway because of the housing shortage.
Surprising how these areas all look the same. This could be Berlin as well!
I was right: The 1960s and 1970s saw a second population boom, caused by immigration from poorer regions of Spain: however this was not matched by construction of the necessary amenities and it was only in the 1990s that public investment resulted in additional schools, leisure facilities and housing.
An empty factory. Probably built in the 1900's when this was the outer edge of the city. Now it has been closed down but the area will be gentrified and the buildings will be re-used.
It is near the metro station Magoria la Campana. I could not find any other information.
Other factories in this area have been demolished. Modern housing and sports fields have taken their place. Bicycle lanes are a modern innovation.
Large housing projects from the 1950's. Now a stable, lower middle class area.
The scooter or motorbike is ever present. Helmets are worn but otherwise no protection, just sneakers, shorts and T-shirts. They pass the cars with just centimetres to spare.
My speculation - Plaza d'Espana. In nationalistic times - 1900 - this was the outskirt of the city. That's why the soccer arena was built here. And that's why the fairground and exhibition area was built here. These institutions are always built on the outskirts of the city.
I was mostly wrong: The square was built in 1929 for the international exhibition. And it's a bullring, not a football stadium.
My speculation - The 1900 areas of the city. A lot of Art Nouveau. Rich buildings with highly ornamental facades. The new upper middle class of a booming capitalist society. Important to remember that this style was very modern in those times. These were innovative areas of the city.
I was right: The late 19th century urban planner Ildefons Cerdà included this street as an essential part of his draft of the new "Projecte de reforma i eixample de Barcelona".
The metro teleports us to a totally different part of the city. You never know how it will look up there. The metro looks modern. It does not feel panicked by terrorism.
My speculation - On the map this looked spectacular, like a big round city park. But in reality it is construction site. The park on the left looks closed and dead. The roads and tramways on the right are so big that it's impossible to orient yourself. Everything is so new that nothing seems to work yet.
I was right: Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes is a large square in Barcelona, first designed by Ildefons Cerdà to serve as the city centre in his original urban plan, but nowadays relegated to quite a secondary position. Resembling nothing of what it was intended to be, most of the current Glòries was built in the 1960s, with further additions in the 1990s. Large portions of the square are occupied by parking lots and its central area is surrounded by concrete walls, part of the not very aesthetic elevated highways.
Extreme gentrification in an old part of the city. How much this looks like Berlin! The modern tower is generally called "The Dildo" or "The condom".
According to the architect Jean Nouvel, the shape of the Torre Agbar was inspired by Montserrat, a mountain near Barcelona, by the shape of a geyser rising into the air, and by the male genitalia.
This was an industrial area from the 1900's to the 1990's. Still a few car workshops are left. But some industrial property has been cleared. New and spectacular buildings are put inside the empty spaces. Hotels, offices, university buildings. Some small shops, bars and restaurants are still surviving.
I was right: During the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, Poblenou was the epicenter of Catalan and Iberian industry, earning it its sobriquet of the Catalonian Manchester. Surrounding the extensive cluster of factories stood mostly working class residential areas. After a period of decay, the neighbourhood has undergone a dramatic transformation.
The new Ibis hotel has been built opposite a 1900 factory façade. The backyard looks out on a highly technical industry building from the 1920's. On the corner the T-Systems mobile company has built a new skyscraper.

Reading European cities is not too difficult. Their history and architecture is very similar.
Don't go to an unknown city without doing research. You will feel lost and ungrounded.
Even a tiny bit of factual research (Google, Wikipedia) helps tremendously.


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